Testing and Grading Translation

December 27th, 2012

Many translation professionals will eventually be asked to teach at some level.

testing and grading translation


My main concern when it comes to the idea of teaching translation is the question of how to grade or assess your students. Grades remain the main way that students are evaluated, and many program entry requirements or scholarships are still based on some grading system. As a result, no matter what your intentions are for teaching style or class work, you have to have a way to grade your students that is acceptable to a state-recognised transcript system.

Which then raises the question: How do you test document translation skills in a coherent manner?


There are many standard test forms. The appropriate approach has more to do with the skill level of you students than anything else. Multiple-choice questions, where several incorrect answers are provided along with the correct answer, fill-in questions where blank lines must be completed, and true-false questions are appropriate for beginners. They allow you to quickly assess whether they comprehend short pieces of another language, and can quickly demonstrate if they understand rules of grammar and similar codified aspects of translation.

These approaches are easy to grade: A test of 10 multiple-choice questions has 10 correct answers, and the grade is the proportion of correct answers on the test.

For more experienced students, however, it’s much better to test them using actual passage of text that they can translate. This approach allows them to demonstrate two key advanced translation skills: Comprehension and composition. Can they read and truly understand a passage at a deep level and then render it in the target language in a manner that is accurate in meaning, style, and spirit?

Grading this approach can be more difficult. Simply marking errors in grammar or vocabulary is not sufficient; you must also grade for comprehension and composition. The key hear is to be consistent. There is no definite, absolute way to interpret a legal translation beyond obvious errors. If you are consistent both across all the students in your class and over the course of the school year, the grading will be effective.

Guarding against shifting priorities or preferences in your grading style is the key thing. If you grade the same way six months in, your students will have a consistent measure of their progress, and that’s what’s important.

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