Progress Toward a Remote Testing Model of ATA’s Certification Exam

What’s happening with at-home testing? This question is on the minds of many members as ATA works to address the effects of the pandemic on our current in-person certification exam model. We’re excited to provide this update on the process involved in revamping our delivery method and the progress made thus far.

Remote testing has been under discussion for some time, but the lockdowns and other restrictions in 2020 propelled the Certification Committee to ramp up its efforts last summer to find a suitable vendor and platform to make this model a reality as soon as possible. We started with a list of nearly 20 options, many of which were ruled out because they were unable to accommodate non-Roman writing systems. Language-wise, Arabic has proven particularly difficult for vendors to manage due to the right-to-left writing direction. We briefly considered moving exams online just for certain languages but decided it would delay the development of some exams, might increase costs since we would be working with multiple vendors, and would be confusing to exam candidates (with information and instructions changing once for the initial vendor and then again later on).

Another sticking point has been the nature of our exam model. Many online testing platforms don’t allow test takers to exit the platform once they start their exam. This restriction disables access to other programs on candidates’ computers, as well as to the internet. These platforms won’t work for us since we allow internet access to non-interactive websites1 and allow candidates to use some resources they have stored on their computers, such as glossaries or dictionary apps.

Proctoring has also been a hurdle. Some potential vendors use only automated systems that often flag apparent violations like accessing outside websites, while others only work with their own proctors. Because ATA allows access to certain online sites but not others, it’s best for us to use our own specially trained proctors, who are translators themselves. However, most vendors are unwilling to create custom arrangements just for us because ATA’s exam volume (on the order of 500 exams per year) is small compared to, say, universities or organizations of nurses or accountants.

After extensive online research, email exchanges, telephone calls, virtual meetings, and live demos, we’ve identified a company we believe will be a good match. We’ve had multiple meetings with this vendor to explain our model and requirements, including calls with their programmers to tailor the interface to work with our various languages. We had a pilot test in January and scheduled more testing in February and March. We’re in the process of negotiating a contract and have started writing the instructions for candidates and proctors. Some details need to be reviewed by ATA Headquarters staff and possibly legal counsel. Once the administrative obstacles have been cleared, we’ll be able to share our proprietary exam passages with the remote testing vendor, start training our proctors, and move into beta testing.

The path has taken many twists and turns, but we’re close to reaching our destination of at-home testing. We’ll be sharing much more information in the coming weeks and months as the details get hammered out and this more convenient model becomes available to our members later this year. Thanks for your patience and stay tuned!

  1. For a complete list of acceptable resources allowed during the exam, check out the “Computerized Exam Online Resource List” on ATA’s website,

Michèle Hansen, CT is chair of ATA’s Certification Committee. An ATA-certified French>English translator and editor since 1990, she specializes in the health-related international development, medical, and pharmaceutical sectors. In addition to her freelance work, she has taught French>English medical translation for the translation certificate programs at New York University and the University of Chicago. She previously served as administrator of ATA’s French Language Division.

1 Responses to "Progress Toward a Remote Testing Model of ATA’s Certification Exam"

  1. Giovanna Lester says:

    We held our first online exam at Abrates last October. It was a very rewarding experience. Let us know how we can help you.

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