Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination: Report

A few weeks ago, I (Judy) took the written portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE for short), which is offered every two years. For those of you who are curious about the exam, here is a brief report. As a matter of course, I will not divulge what's on the exam specifically, but I do want to give you some insight into the process and into my experience.

  • For the first time, the exam was offered on the computer at Prometric testing locations throughout the country, which seemed like a great and convenient idea in theory.
  • However, the exam hasn't been updated to reflect the fact that it's electronic, so many instructions tell the test-taker to "mark the correct answer on the answer sheet." Of course, there is no answer sheet.
  • It appears to me that  Protemetric folks spent a lot of time looking for the worst possible location in which to have a testing center in Vegas, and they succeeded to secure a small office in the back of an industrial area where you take the exam accompanied by the sounds of 18-wheelers backing up right outside the exam room.The headset provided to block out the noise was cheap, hard, and hurt my ears immediately, so I had to tune the noise out by sheer will (a challenging endeavor).
  • Contrary to what it says on the Prometric website and contrary to the e-mail confirmations received from the testing folks, lockers were indeed available to store one's belongings, even though the company had insisted they were not. That's the reason I only showed up with my driver's license, car key and water bottle and had to leave my purse in the car in a rather sketchy area. Test takers are not allowed to park directly in front of the almost-empty parking lot, but rather across the parking lot. I am not quite sure why paying customers should not be able to park in front of the business they are visiting. Who else is supposed to park there? Employees? Random 18-wheelers? Multiple signs remind you that you will be towed if you park in front of the building. I found this highly puzzling and not very welcoming.
  • The exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes. You are not allowed to bring in your water bottle. Trust me: this is quite brutal in the Vegas summer. For some reason, watches are not allowed either.
  • The exam starts with an oath that you will not divulge anything that's on it. Fair enough. It's followed by a short tutorial on how to use the mouse, which I didn't really need. However, the instructions on how to mark a question for review, then come back to it and unmark it could have been more clear. I am a highly proficient software user, but this really could have been explained better.
  • The exam starts with the English section, which consists of 100 questions. You can take however long you want on each question, and you roughly have a minute a question. Reading comprehension is first, which is a challenge on the computer. I am used to underlining important phrases and to write on the paper. You cannot do that on a screen, so that's a significant disadvantage.
  • In order to see sample questions, you can order a practice booklet for $30, which comes in very handy. The exam includes sections on synonyms, identifying translation mistakes, etc. All questions are multiple choice.
  • I finished the English section in 45 minutes. In general, I thought the English-language portion was less challenging than I had anticipated, even though I tend to score higher on the Spanish sections.
  • The Spanish section also consisted of 100 questions in the same order (reading comprehension first). In general, I thought the Spanish sections were higher register than the English ones.
  • I finished the Spanish questions in 50 minutes, so I had a lot of time to kill. I decided to review some questions, and then called it a day at 2 hours and 10 minutes or so, so I had more than an hour left. I think the time is sufficient, but I am also a very quick reader. By the end of the exam, my eyes were quite fatigued, and I was tired of the truck ruckus outside the exam room.
  • I am not sure if I passed or not -- it's quite hard to tell. As opposed to other exams in this format that I have taken (GMAT, etc.) one does not get the score immediately, which is a bit odd. Rather, the results will be mailed in 8-9 weeks (whew). I will keep you posted!
If you took the exam or have anything to contribute, we'd love to hear from you! We are looking forward to comments.


Jonathan on August 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM said...

Thank you for that interesting and informative report. What languages may one be tested on, other than Spanish (and English)?


Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 26, 2012 at 12:11 PM said...

@Jonathan: thanks for the comment! We think it's only available for Spanish, but we are not entirely sure. Your best bet is to ask the exam administrators for details. Here's a link to the FAQ: http://www.ncsc.org/sitecore/content/microsites/fcice/home/About-the-program/Frequently-Asked-Questions.aspx

Anonymous said...

Hi Judy. I took a Prometric test a while ago and I have to admit that I experienced the same with location (it was hard to find a parking lot and the area is not very safe) and lockers (they were there, although they had not said anything about them in the email). Maybe they can't say they have lockers as there would not be enough for everyone, but that's only a guess. Anyway, the staff was very friendly, so it was not too bad :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 27, 2012 at 8:16 AM said...

@Chiara: thanks for reading and for commenting! I completely agree with you: the staff was very friendly, so no complaints there. However, the entire set-up is certainly subpar, in my humble opinion. :)

Anonymous said...

I also took the written exam this year at Prometric and encountered the same problems you did with the testing site. Additionally, the testing room was extremely cold, and the constant pacing back and forth of the testing room "monitor" was a constant point of distraction. As far as the exam goes,I came across two blatant grammar errors, and missing text in the reading comprehension portion. In one of the 2 instances, the amount of missing text (including an incomplete word, which I was unable to decipher from its 3 first/last(?) letters) made the sentence incomprehensible. I only hope that, that particular sentence was not critical in determining the overall meaning of that paragraph.
I am still waiting for the test results.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on September 28, 2012 at 9:03 AM said...

@Anonymous: Sorry to hear your experience was less than wonderful(same here). I also found a few minor issues with instructions in the sentence correction portion, but it would have been hard to describe without giving a specific example, so I stayed away from them. I don't remember any reading comprehension errors that I saw, but surely there are different versions. You'd think, though, that a national exam like this would be completely error-free. Keeping fingers crossed for the results. Have not received mine yet, and I am really not quite sure. I didn't have much time to study; so we shall see.

Yadi on October 17, 2012 at 2:50 PM said...

I am wondering if you have received your results yet. A friend from Arkansas got hers on Monday. It is Wednesday Oct 17th and my friend from St George & I are still waiting. Thanks

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 17, 2012 at 3:32 PM said...

@Yadi: Thanks for the comment. Too funny -- I just got my results a few hours ago and we are back from doing a quick celebration. I did very well and passed; so I am quite excited. Your results should be in the mail as we speak. Keep us posted!

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