Exam Day: The Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE)

Last week, Judy finally took the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE). We have written about this exam before: have a look here and here. Please read on for Judy's account of the exam day. This post will not focus on her preparation, which we have addressed in other posts (here and here) and will also discuss in future posts.

Final countdown to the exam. 
After much back and forth, I chose to take the exam in Denver (one can list a first, second and third choice when you register), and a full four weeks or so before the exam, the organizers finally confirmed the date and the location: July 16 at 10:30 in a Denver suburb (Aurora, infamous because of the movie theater shootings). Of course, there's much room for improvement within the registration process, but for now, let me focus on the exam. After months of worrying, agonizing, spending lots of money on courses and scolding myself for not studying enough, I can finally say: it's over. In summary, I'd also say that this exam is quite fair. I won't tell you, but in very general terms, what's on the exam, and it's hard to tell how I did, as only certain words (called scoring units) are actually scored. Now the waiting game beings -- 13 weeks, according to the FCICE website, up to six months according to colleagues who did not get their results until mid-December in 2011. The oral examination is offered every two years. The written examination is offered in even years.

  • Exam location. This varies between cities, but as far as I know, the exams are usually held at a local hotel, and in Denver, it was at the Embassy Suites in Aurora, so I chose to spend the night right there to minimize any possible adverse factors. I flew in from Vegas (direct flight) the previous day and rented a car so I could get around. I really like Embassy Suites in general, and this location only had one exam room, which was easy to find. It wasn't a large or intimidating conference room at all. rather, the suite looked just like the one I stayed in, except that it had a conference table that sat six people instead of a coffee table, sofa, and TV. The ambiance was nice and relaxing and did not feel stressful at all. There will just be one proctor in the room with you. Her or his job is to press the buttons so you can hear the recorded exams and to record your rendition. My proctor was very nice, and didn't even speak Spanish -- they have nothing to do with the grading of the exam. Right before I went into an exam, a volunteer from the National Center for State Courts politely asked to be an observer during my exam. I politely declined, as I had not been prepared for more than one person in the room. I hesitated a bit, as he looked disappointed, but I managed to put my needs ahead of his. If I had known this ahead of time, I would have considered it. The proctor escorted me to the second floor from the first floor, where the registration desk was located. It was all quite low-key and relaxed.
  • Pre-exam. I was lucky to get a randomly assigned time that worked for me, as I am not too much of an early morning person. Plus, it's our mom's birthday, so I chose to take that as a good sign. I got a good night's sleep after a lovely dinner with friends, got up at 8 am, had a hearty breakfast of fruit, oatmeal and some mint tea for my voice, and reviewed a few notes. I did 220 sit-ups, one for each scoring units, and a few powerful yoga poses that I can actually do without hurting myself or my ego (Warrior, Tree, etc.)  I also warmed up my voice and did 15 minutes of interpreting using my Android. I dressed in layers, including a very soft cotton scarf in one of my favorite colors (yellow) that was a present from my hubby. And yes, I had brought several good luck charms, but I did not take them into the exam room (I wasn't allowed to). 
    Silly self-portrait before the exam.
  • Pens, paper, and other stuff. I had heard from previous test-takers that it's probably not a good idea to get too attached to your favorite note-taking pen, as you won't be allowed to bring it into the room. This is quite a bummer, as I actually do have a favorite gel-based pen, which I buy by the dozens at Costco. It is completely true that you can't bring anything in but your ID, your admission letter, and perhaps a few other small items (I also had my room key). You can't bring in a water bottle, but they have water for you, in a nice traditional glass, in my case (my hand shook slightly as I poured it). During my exam, the proctor gave me both a legal pad and a smaller notepad to use (my choice). There were at least four pens and five pencils, and while they were certainly not high-end, they did the trick (think hotel pens and basic pencils). The headphones are only used during the two simultaneous portions, and while the equipment was certainly not Bang & Olufsen, they worked fine and did not hurt my ears at all.
  • Instructions. If you have prepared a bit and have read the examinee handbook, then the instructions you will be read will be very straightforward, and I wasn't too focused when the proctor read them to me, as I was going my yoga breathing exercises. I wasn't too terribly nervous, but I figured the breathing exercises wouldn't hurt. The sequence of the exam was: sight translation into Spanish, sight translation into English, simultaneous (monologue), consecutive, simultaneous (expert witness). I finished in roughly 35 minutes, and I did take advantage of my two repetitions during the consecutive portion. While I certainly made plenty of unforced and silly errors, I felt that the exam was quite fair and there were certainly no trick passages. Exam conditions are ideal, too: the room is quite, no one interrupts you, and people don't talk at the same time. Quite nice if you think about it, actually.
  • Anti-climactic. Many colleagues have asked me how I felt during and after the exam, and as a former competitive tennis player, I do think it's true that the pre-match, err, pre-exam anxiety and preparation tend to be worse than the actual event/exam. It did feel a bit anti-climactic, and I'd say that the texts that I had to do might have been a bit easier than those I'd done in practice. That said, this was, without doubt, one of the most challenging exams I've taken. I think I may have a shot at passing it, but this was my first try, so it certainly is a long shot.
    Relaxing in a park. 
  • Post-exam. I made a few phone calls to my hubby, my twin, and my parents to tell them that I survived and then coordinated with my good translator friends, who insisted on treating me to lunch at a fantastic downtown Denver restaurant, Le Central, where I toasted to the fact that I'd made it to the other side of this interpreting exam. I then took a nap in a gorgeous park before meeting another friend for dinner in a suburb. I drove myself to the airport, caught a 9 p.m. flight to Vegas, and was at home by midnight.
And just like that -- it's done and over with. I can't wait to get the results! It will be a long few months for sure. If you also took the exam, please do share your experiences!


Alina on July 22, 2013 at 11:48 PM said...

Fingers crossed, Judy! I am pretty sure you'll have some good news to share in a few months' time.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 23, 2013 at 8:01 AM said...

@Alina: Thanks for your sweet comment. I hope you are right! I really am very torn, and it could go either way....and it will be SUCH a long way, sigh.

Shizuka said...

I've loved following your path from considering taking the test, to studying, to taking the written and getting an amazing score, to this.

I recently studied and took the NJ and NY written exams, partially encourage by your posts.

I'm sure you aced the orals.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 25, 2013 at 10:55 AM said...

@Shizuka: Thanks so much for your lovely note. I decided to make this process very public, so if I fail, everyone will know right away -- hehe. Good luck on your NJ and NJ written exams -- did you already get the results back? For court? Consortium?

You know, I go back and forth about this exam. I am really not sure I did pass it, but there's only one way to find out. Must wait.

Shizuka said...

I passed the NJ written exam for court, but alas, there's no Japanese interpretation exam. I'll be taking a one-day seminar, followed English speaking exam.

I'll find out about the NY in, hopefully, 10 weeks.

Having taken the tests in both states, I'm very impressed with how efficient NJ is. Written test results back in less than 5 weeks!

Judy, you'll pass the Federal Exam. If you can't, I can't imagine who can.

Anabella said...


I loved your entry. Particularly the 220 sit-ups for every scoring unit!

My testing experience in Los Angeles was similar.

Usually the prometric exams are held in Embassy Suites by the airport, but this time it was at the Sheraton in downtown. It's the same for me but, for people flying from other cities the airport location is better.

Parking in hotels is usually expensive so I parked a block away in some public parking, and when I checked in I was unexpectedly offered validation, which would have been $2 less that what I already paid. oh well.

The only "bad thing" was that from the 4 testing rooms (the 4th had to be added last minute because all candidates showed up) I got the one downstairs: a huge empty one, with concrete walls, and with a lot of echo, which was somewhat distracting in the simultaneous portions.

I had the chance to point this out in the survey I was handed at the end of the test. The rest was perfectly fine.

Judy, do you think the results will be emailed to us?

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 27, 2013 at 2:34 PM said...

@Shizuka: That's right, most states don't offer a full exam for Japanese, so you will be a registered court interpreter, correct? 5 weeks? That's impressive indeed. The wait is really, really hard.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 27, 2013 at 2:38 PM said...

@Anabella: Thanks for the Los Angeles report, girl! Awesome. It certainly would be nice if they told you about the parking validation before the exam, verdad? Your exam room sure does sound less than ideal, so I am glad you had the chance to point that out in the mini-survey (which should have a space for general feedback, but does not).

As far as I understand it, we will get a notification and then we can log onto their (always crashing) website to download the results, similar to what happened when we got the time/date for our oral exam, but I am not 100% sure. The wait is totally killing me, and it hasn't even been 2 weeks yet. At least 10 weeks to go, but in 2011, as we said, the results took 6 months, so I am not holding my breath. I bet you passed. :) Sending lots of positive energy.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog recently when I googled "tips on passing the consortium exam for court-interpreter certification" or something along those lines. Then I found the link to your very well-thought out tips. I am a male Spanish interpreter relatively new to the profession but have been studying Spanish off and on for the past 20 years starting in Junior High.
I was shocked to learn that only 5% of interpreters pass the court-certification exam on the first try!! That was news to me! I knew the exam was challenging, but this really drives home the point. But only recently I got the news that I had indeed not passed the consecutive portion of the state exam for the third time! (Incidentally, I passed the simultaneous and sight translation sections the very first time.) The good news is that this time I did significantly better - I actually got really very close - a 63%. The first time I took the consecutive test I received a 53% and the second time a 54%, so this was a real improvement. And this was a significant improvement despite running out of time on the exam (and God only knows how much I missed for scoring units which were all scored a big zero.) I had never run out of time on the previous two tries, which must mean that I am getting a lot more thorough at least, which is a really good thing. Now I just need to be more aware of the time factor. Now I have to wait until 2014 to re-take the entire exam, but I am not worried about the simultaneous or sight sections.
Anyway, I love your blog and I wish you the best of luck on the Federal exam Judy. Waiting is soo hard, I know! Just hope for the best, but prepare for the worst (although, as someone already said, if you can't pass it, who can?? ;)).

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