Why is it so Easy to Fail the NAATI Translation and Interpreting Tests?

Do you think that you are an experienced translator and have you ever had the chance to take a NAATI test in interpreting and translation? If you haven’t quite got that far you should read Dave Deck’s comments about what NAATI said recently about why it is some translators fail the NAATI test and therefore do not have the qualifications to complete NAATI translator which is often required for government departments in Australia for things like work visas.

Dave did a presentation on test marking by NAATI at the annual conference of the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters, in Wellington last June.

What are NAATI tests?

First of all, NAATI stands for the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters. This authority conducts tests in New Zealand and Australia. Translators who pass the NAATI exam have the qualifications to apply for full membership of the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) as well as the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI). If you have taken and passed the NAATI Paraprofessional exam, you have the qualifications to apply for NZSTI affiliate status or AUSIT membership.

The translation is typically tested at the professional level only and candidates complete the examination using paper and pen. Testing using keyboards is planned for the future. Interpreting tests can be taken at both the professional and the paraprofessional levels, and pre-recorded tests are used. The tests have a section on ethics for interpreters and translators.

Two markers mark each test and if there are any wide discrepancies a third marker will be used. The tests do not have fixed responses but are marked by determining acceptable responses. Accuracy of the translation of the course is the most important aspect of marking. The language quality is viewed mainly in terms of how it contributes to accuracy.

Is the NAATI exam difficult?

The NAATI certification tests in both translation and interpreting are a fair test of skills required to be a certified translator or interpreter in Australia. Whether they seem difficult or easy depends more on the level of preparation that someone attempting to get certification has made rather than the actual difficulty of the tests themselves. The overall average pass rate in NAATI tests seems to be quite low at about 15%, meaning that 8 to 9 of every ten people taking the NAATI test fail to reach the required level of achievement.

What is the passing score in NAATI?

There are two main “dialogues” that have to be passed in every NAATI test. The pass rate in each dialogue is 29/45. The candidate must reach 29 as a minimum in each dialogue. Also, the total score, which is a combination of the scores in both dialogues, must be a minimum of 63/90.

The reason translators fail the test

Dave Deck on passing NAATI translation and interpreting test translators explained that there are some particularly common reasons for failing the tests.

The NAATI CCL pass rate is generally quite low, averaging around 10-15%. This is primarily due to a significant number of candidates being ill-prepared for the exam. Some individuals take the test solely to accumulate points for Australian immigration purposes.

In the translation examination, lacking proficiency in what is called L2, the translator’s 2nd language is the reason why exam takers fail. Some candidates attempt to translate into their 2nd language, which means they have difficulty expressing complex ideas. When they translate into their native language, one reason for failure is misunderstanding the text. Some exam takers do have problems with technique meaning they either translate over-literally or, use paraphrasing that is unnecessary. Some other reasons are :

  • Insufficient preparation for the NAATI test.
  • Failure to review relevant materials or take practice exams (NAATI test sample).
  • Inability to manage time effectively during the test.
  • Not fully understanding the format and structure of the NAATI test.
  • Limited knowledge of specialized terminology related to the test subject.

How to prepare for the NAATI test

There are some obvious ways to prepare for NAATI certification tests. Apart from ensuring that you are fluent in the language pair or pairs that you will be tested in, you need to have completed a translation or interpreting course at a recognized institution. Several organizations provide sample NAATI tests to complete on a trial basis to see if you are regularly reaching the standard required. Note that these sample tests are never identical to those used by NAATI informal assessment.