Exam FAQ's

How do I register?

The application to take the proficiency examination consists of two parts:

1. The student must complete the Graduate Proficiency Exam Reigstration Form by the registration deadline. 

2. The advisor must submit the translation passage via the Advisor Translation Passage Submission.

Where and when does the exam take place?

  • The exam takes place in a designated classroom from 3:00-5:00 pm on the tenth Wednesday of the semester. See the Examination Schedule for specific dates.

How can I prepare?

Take courses:

The Department of French and Italian offers a series of courses designed to give students a reading knowledge of the language.

  • French 6571 is designed for students with little or no background in French.  It includes an intensive study of the basics of French grammar and vocabulary and develops the students’ ability to translate general interest articles as well as texts in their specialized field of study.

  • French 6572 is designed for students who have passed FR 6571.  It is also designed for students who through previous language experience have learned basic French grammar and vocabulary and who can understand the key points in a professional article in their discipline in French.  In French 6572, students continue to build their knowledge of French grammar and vocabulary and most importantly continue to improve the accuracy of their reading and translation of scholarly texts in French.  If you have not taken French 6571, you need the permission of the instructor to sign up for the course. 

    Credit for either 6571 or 6572 does not apply to the minimum number of hours required for the master's or doctoral degrees.

Review the textbook:

The 5571 series uses French for Reading by Karl C. Sandberg and Eddison C. Tatham. It is a programmed textbook giving an overview of French grammar and vocabulary with self-corrected exercises and sample translation texts. Even if you have studied French before, you would be advised to review this text, as it presents in a simple form advanced constructions not normally addressed in beginning language courses. These would include exclusively literary verb tenses, complex syntactical structures (including inverted word order), and idiomatic phrases among others, all of which are typical of the primary and secondary sources used in graduate research.

Talk to your advisor or Graduate Chair:

Have a discussion with your advisor or Graduate Chair about the different research materials in French which you could expect to find useful in your field. Specifically, it will be helpful to assess the stylistic type (or types) of scholarly texts which you are expected to be able to translate for your work and for the exam.


Following your discussion with your advisor or Graduate Chair, select several texts and, if appropriate, a variety of textual types (e.g., primary and secondary sources, conventional and unconventional critical style) to read and translate.

  • First, read lengthier passages to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary of your specialized field. Practice identifying key words or phrases, and look these up immediately as you read so as to be able to have an overall view of the work.
  • On your first reading, you may underline words you do not know and look these up as you proceed to translate the text. Remember, consult an unabridged, or at least college-level bilingual dictionary; pocket dictionaries are not designed for research-level work.
  • Keep a short list of "trouble" passages. Is the word order inverted? Is there a pronoun with a mystery antecedent? Is there a verb form you have never seen before? Are there phrases that make no sense, even though you have looked up all the words? It is important to try to resolve these problems, as they are likely to reappear on the exam passage. Consult French for Reading for simple explanations of advanced grammatical forms and make sure that your dictionary has thorough entries including idiomatic usages.
  • Finally, choose a passage of approximately 500 words, and with your dictionary at your side, practice translating the text in two hours. When you have finished, read your English translation for coherence and fluency. (For more on the criteria used to evaluate translations, see the American Translator's Association: http://www.atanet.org/certification/aboutexams_error.php
  • For additional advice on taking a translation exam, consult the American Translator's Association's "Tips for Candidates" preparing the ATA certification exam

Why is the exam limited to secondary sources?

Traditionally the exam has been limited to secondary sources, primarily articles taken from scholarly journals. Primary sources, including works of fiction, diaries, journals, field notes, etc., may pose problems of interpretation in the original which are beyond the scope of a translation exam. Included in these challenges may be extra-textual references, use of slang or non-standard vocabulary, sentence fragments, puns, and all varieties of poetic language.

What is the best dictionary?

There are a number of good bilingual "college" dictionaries, and best of all would be an unabridged version. Harper Collins Robert, Larousse, and Harrap's are among the most popular. Above all, avoid using a pocket dictionary; they are not designed for translating complex, scholarly texts.

May I use an electronic translator?

No, electronic translators or other hand-held dictionaries are not allowed in the exam. It is also not recommended that you use these to practice, as they are designed to translate simple oral communication and not written documents typical of graduate-level research.

Do I translate literally or should I put my translation in fluent English?

Your English translation should read fluently while preserving the meaning of the French original. A too-literal translation can lead to faulty meaning, while a too-free translation can miss essential nuances in the original. For a lengthier discussion of this question, see the American Translator's Association.

When will I find out the results of the exam?

The results of the exam will be reported by e-mail to the student and his or her advisor or Graduate Chair no later than two weeks following the testing date (see the most recent examination schedule).

How do you grade the exam?

The completed translations are graded by the Exam Coordinator in French according to the following criteria:


The translation is complete and accurately conveys the sense of the passage, without distortions (although minor lapses are permitted). Basic verb tenses and idioms are translated correctly. The translation is not overly literal and is written in fluent, idiomatic English.


The translation shows a general misunderstanding of the basic events of the passage or is repeatedly inaccurate. Verb tenses and idioms are repeatedly mistranslated. The translation is overly literal, displaying no sense of the nuances of the original. The translation is incomplete.

Is the exam written long-hand or on a computer?

The exam is written by hand in pen or pencil at the student's discretion.

[pdf] - Some links on this page are to .pdf files.  If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact The Department of French and Italian. PDF files require the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader software to open them. If you do not have Reader, you may use the following link to Adobe to download it for free at: Adobe Acrobat Reader.