Preparing for the Exam

Take courses:

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

  • For students with little or no background in French, French 6571 is offered during the first half of summer session. It includes an intensive study of the grammar and vocabulary of French and develops students' ability to translate general interest articles as well as texts in their specialized field of study.

Review the textbook:

  • 6571 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. For additional advice on taking a translation exam, consult the American Translator's Association's "Tips for Candidates" preparing the ATA certification exam.


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