The Care and Feeding of Graders

You can find a lot of information about ATA’s Certification Program on the website and in past articles of The ATA Chronicle, but not much about the people who make it work. In this month’s column we’ll take a look at the human side of certification grading.

Who manages ATA’s Certification Program?

Caron Mason manages the program at ATA Headquarters. She answers your calls and emails, mails exam packets to sittings, sends completed exams to graders, and processes the results. David Stephenson is chair of ATA’s Certification Committee. He manages the approximately 130 graders working in the 30 language pairs and directions for which ATA currently offers certification exams, and reports directly to the Board of Directors. He is assisted by two deputy chairs: Larry Bogoslaw, who doubles as the grader trainer, and Michèle Hansen, who also serves as the secretary of the Certification Committee. They’re joined by the rest of the Certification Committee, composed of up to 12 experienced graders, which helps guide the program’s development and coordinate exam-related decisions.

Who grades the exam? Are they all teachers?

ATA certification graders are your colleagues. They’re all practicing translators with years of experience. Some teach, while others do not.

Do graders receive any specific training on how to mark certification exams?

Absolutely! Live training is offered twice every year, once in the spring and once in the fall at ATA’s Annual Conference. The grader trainer prepares full- and half-day sessions that keep graders’ skills sharp and consistent across the language groups. The Certification Program also uses an online platform where training materials are available to those who can’t make the live sessions, and where the various committees and language groups convene to discuss issues. Most language groups also schedule regular conference calls to make sure everyone is up to date.

Sounds like fun. Can I apply to be a grader?

Yes, but you should know that turnover is low so new positions don’t open up frequently. You can contact Caron Mason at ATA Headquarters (, who will pass your request along to the appropriate language group. Graders must have passed the exam and are selected based on their exam score, background, professional reputation and experience, and demonstrated commitment to the profession. This last factor is taken into consideration because, even though practice tests and certification exams are remunerated, graders perform a significant amount of volunteer work for the program.

So, graders don’t just grade?

In fact, the majority of the time graders spend on certification is not spent on grading exams! The process of passage selection alone is long and involves many steps. Every potential exam passage is vetted by the members of the language group and by its counterpart group (a group working in the same language pair but in the opposite direction—for example, Spanish>English and English>Spanish. Graders in a group translate all the sample passages individually and then discuss the challenges and difficulty level with each other. Passages are frequently discarded at this point and the process begins again. If the passage fulfills internal requirements, it’s sent to a separate taskforce for further review. Graders also work with their groups to come up with guidelines for every passage to ensure that everyone marks consistently.

Many graders also serve on a subcommittee. These groups work on a variety of activities related to certification, such as helping those interested in creating an exam for a new language pair or direction, developing candidate preparation materials for workshops, reviewing and approving the use of anonymized exam data by academic researchers, or collaborating with ATA’s Public Relations Committee.

Finally, graders also work together collaboratively under the grader trainer’s guidance to implement changes and updates to the tools they use, such as the Explanation of Error Categories,1 the Framework for Standardized Error Marking,2 and the Flowchart for Error Grading.3 Most recently, a major effort went into updating the Into-English Grading Standards in 2017.4 These materials and others are reviewed periodically to ensure that the process is fair and consistent and that standards are current. All of this work is done on a volunteer basis by graders.

So, while myths will always circulate about the certification exam, we hope that this information provides some insight into the hard-working people who make the program possible.

  1. Explanation of Error Categories,
  2. Framework for Standardized Error Marking,
  3. Flowchart for Error Grading,
  4. Into-English Grading Standards,

Michèle Hansen has been an ATA-certified French>English translator and editor for over 20 years, specializing in pharmaceutical and medical documents and health-related international development. A former administrator of ATA’s French Language Division, she is now the deputy chair of the Certification Committee. Contact:

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