The Results: Federal Court Interpreting Exam

After three months of waiting, Judy knows the result of the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE), which she took in Denver in mid-July. Read below for her take on it.

I will make this short and sweet: I did not pass. It was close, but I still failed, and it's certainly very disappointing. I scored a 76%, and I needed 80% to pass. This was my first time taking this notoriously difficult exam, and here are my thoughts on the results and on the exam in general:

  • Contrary to the rumors that constantly circulate about this exam, it's quite fair -- at least it felt like it. I'd heard from many other people that they'd leave the exam feeling quite confident, but when they results come in, they get 60%. I'd say the same was true for me. I blogged about my actual exam experience here, and I felt quite relaxed and good about my performance. Obviously, I was wrong.
  • There have been many, many administrative challenges with the FCICE, and getting the results was no exception. The website crashed under the weight of candidates trying to access their scores, although I don't think it's more than 500 people or so. What kind of website cannot handle 500 people logging into it? It's a but puzzling. 
  • The FCICE goes to great lengths to make the process transparent, and they issue a detailed examinee handbook (see picture), which is quite helpful. However, some parts of the process are entirely opaque. For instance, candidates have no idea who the graders are. The exam is graded based on scoring units, which seems quite fair. On the other hand, when you get the result letter (online), there's a little disclaimer saying that the "test is not meant to be a diagnostic tool." What is it, then? In addition, examinees do not get a breakdown of their scores by sections (the exam has several different components), making it impossible to identify one's area of weakness. I find this truly incomprehensible -- if each individual section was scored, why wouldn't the committee tell the candidate those individual scores so they can improve on their weakest area? 
  • Many friends and colleagues have asked me if I plan on taking the exam again in 2015 (that's a long time away), and I've considered it. However, since I don't really know where things went wrong for me, it's a challenge to change my study plan. While I will certainly admit that I could have studied much more than I did, I took several courses, including one at the venerable Monterey Institute of International Studies and a useful online class at the Southern California School of Interpretation. I passed four mock exams, and never scored below 90 on the mocks that gave me an actual numerical score (I was honestly surprised by the high scores). 
  • I really don't want to join the legion of exam takers who have long alleged that the exam is ________ (fill in the blank: unbiased, unfair, etc.), but the experience does give me some food for thought indeed. I have no way of knowing where I did poorly, and clearly, my strong performance in mock exams was no indicator of future performance. So were the mock exams at MIIS and SCSI completely off? Or did I just have a bad day at the actual exam? I didn't really think that I had a bad day. Quite the contrary: I felt well prepared, calm, collected, and ready to take the exam, so I did. And I failed it. It's humbling indeed.
  • For better or for worse, state-certified court interpreters (I am certified in both California and in Nevada, at the master level in the latter) don't really need the federal certification to interpret in federal court, which also seems a bit off. Why go to all this exam trouble if the federal courts are full of state-certified interpreters? Of course this means that I might very well have the chance to interpret in federal court as well with my current certifications, but I'd still like to have USCCI (United States Certified Court Interpreter) after my name. 
  • Of all the people I know, which includes my MIIS colleagues, friends from Google Groups, and my study group in Vegas, I only know of three people who passed the exam. I am very, very happy for them, and the pass rate for the exam is indeed is very low (as far as we know). No data about pass rates is ever released, so I truly have no idea how many people have taken the exam and how many passed it.
In summary: I thoroughly enjoyed the study process, the challenge, and meeting many fantastic new colleagues and friends along the way. It's a pity that I didn't pass, but I bet I will try again. However, I have heard from several very talented colleagues that their scores actually do down rather than up after multiple attempts, which doesn't quite make sense. I am humbled by my result, and somewhat motivated to try again - although I am not sure how to change my study plan, but I will figure it out.

How did you do on the exam, dear colleagues? Are you willing to share your score and your experiences? I decided long ago to make this process very public 


Diana Coada on October 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM said...

I am very sorry to hear that, Judy. I genuinely thought you would pass.

Do not let those four points get you down - I am sure you'll succeed in 2015!

Emma Goldsmith on October 21, 2013 at 11:53 AM said...

Judy, I'm so sorry you failed the exam. But how brave to blog about it. I wasn't that brave when I failed one of the CIoL DipTrans papers last year - I only let people know when I resat it and passed it the second time round.

It's so hard to take a step back and look at what went wrong from an unbiased standpoint, but you've done a great job of analysing it here and I hope it helps others who find themselves in the same situation.
Rest assured that when you pass in 2015 - or whenever - success will taste even sweeter!

Martine Yeo on October 21, 2013 at 1:02 PM said...

So sorry to hear that. It takes a lot of courage to write such a post and make it public. I am impressed!

Don't give up. Rome wasn't built in one day, as they say!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 21, 2013 at 4:08 PM said...

@Diana: Thanks, Diana. I also had high hopes, especially since I did so well on the state exams. However, exams can be very tricky, and well, I will just have to try again. Thanks for your lovely comment.

@Emma: Many thanks, Emma. When I first started this journey, I wanted to write about it to help others, and I decided to be 100% transparent, even if it's a bit painful. :) Congrats on passing the CIoL DipTrans -- great job. I am trying to analyze my own performance even more, but I've got limited information on how I did beyond the fact that I got a 76. I will write to the FCICE folks to see if they can give me a detailed breakdown of my performance, which would be quite insightful indeed.

@Martine: Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment, Martine. I am currently licking my wounds a bit -- and pouting, too, but I will get over it and start studying at some point next year.

Riccardo on October 21, 2013 at 6:19 PM said...

Hi Judy,

Really sorry that you didn't pass - I'm sure you'll have better luck next time!

L. Carney said...

Hi Judy, sorry to hear about that. I think we all go through things like that. I too failed the ITI translator's exam the first time but managed to pass it the second time but it is hard, it knocks down your confidence. I am sure you will do well next time, don't give up!

Jenn M on October 22, 2013 at 3:03 PM said...


I feel for you so much right now. I took and did not pass the ATA exam a few years ago and had many similar feelings. I do not want to grouse, but... yeah, I can see a few problems with the process.

I will, eventually, be taking it again, but I am still not sure when I will really be ready as it is hard to tell how much luck is involved.

Corinne McKay on October 22, 2013 at 5:39 PM said...

Judy, you are very brave to put all of this out there in public! I agree that everyone's first impulse is to blame the exam or the graders. However if you scored 90%+ on *four* mock exams, an 80% on the real exam would seem to be well within reach. I'm disappointed for you, but I really applaud your courage in trying to help other people learn from the experience!

Zoya Nayshtut on October 23, 2013 at 12:17 PM said...

Judy, I share your frustration about lack of information in the result letter. Unfortunately, this is the case with many exams. Here is my story. I took CIoL DipTrans examination earlier this year. When I got the results, they seemed weird to me. I was not really disappointed, I was surprised because I failed the first 2 units and passed the 3rd one with distinction. I took all 3 units on the same day, and I did not find the first 2 units more difficult than the third one. I thought the results of each individual unit would be approximately the same or close. It would have been very helpful to see the scoring breakdown, at least, for instance, translation accuracy - XX%, grammar - YY%, etc. For some reason, this information is not disclosed. I have registered to re-sit the first 2 units next January although I am not sure what went wrong last time.

Marie Brotnov on October 23, 2013 at 3:52 PM said...

Thank you for sharing this Judy. I echo the sentiments of the others that it's brave of you to share, and I'm sure you have what it takes to pass next time. And I agree, it's incomprehensible that you aren't told the scores for the individual sections. It's tempting to only share our successes with the world, but it's much more helpful to also share these types of things so we can learn from each other and encourage one another.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 23, 2013 at 5:53 PM said...

@Corinne: Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I really appreciate it. While I knew the exam was going to be challenging, I did feel well prepared and had done so well on all the mocks that it is quite surprising to see my result. On the other hand, I will be the first one to admit I could have studied more, and if there is a next time, I will indeed invest more time.

@Zoya: Thanks for reading and for sharing your experience, Zoya! It is quite strange that you can do so well on one section and then not as great on the other two -- how odd. These exams really do work in mysterious ways indeed. How great, however, that you can take it again in January. Keeping my fingers crossed for you. Keep us posted!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 23, 2013 at 5:55 PM said...

@Marie: Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. You are right: I do think it's useful to share the trials and tribulations with colleagues -- perhaps we can learn from each other. It was an easy decision to make this information available publicly, as we already feel that there's too much secrecy surrounding some exams and there's no point nor benefit to that. We are all about sharing our experiences, and that includes the bad ones, such as failing this exam. :)

Anabella on October 28, 2013 at 12:21 PM said...


You are a stellar colleague and interpreter. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't make it this time after all the hard work and dedication you put into it.

Your account of the facts and your experience is so valuable to us, your readers that love to hear and learn from you.

I totally agree with you on the need to provide a detailed breakdown of the results and I had the same challenge to retrieve the results from the website.

I would also like to see some stats on the Federal Exam, how many people test, how many pass. I don't know why this info is unavailable.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 28, 2013 at 8:58 PM said...

@Anabella: Mil gracias. Thanks for your lovely comment. I got a bit teary-eyed! Many, many congratulations to you! I am absolutely delighted to hear that you passed. And I agree: I really do not quite understand why proper statistics and some data on the exam are not readily available. It makes the process seem opaque and unfair (even though it is not). And yes, there's no reason not to provide detailed breakdown of the examinee's score. After all, each section is graded individually, so it is puzzling that those scores would not be provided to examinees. Now go celebrate, you USCCI, you!

M.C. on April 13, 2014 at 5:39 PM said...


Lo and behold! I found some (potentially) valuable information on the web that underscore the incredible difficulty of the FCICE and may be comforting (albeit not encouraging perhaps):
At the federal level, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has developed certification examinations for three languages: Haitian Creole, Navajo, and Spanish. The federal examination consists of a written test followed by an oral examination. As of this writing — since the inception of the certification program in 1980 — 21 Haitian Creole and nine Navajo language interpreters have received certification from the administrative office. Out of a nationwide pool of 21,002 candidates, 1,302 individuals have been certified for Spanish/English proceedings. To date, the passing rate for the written exam is 21 percent, and the overall certification rate is eight percent.16 Several judicial districts have interpreters on staff; those who do not may use the Administrative Office’s Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP)17 or hire interpreters on a contract basis.

There it is. These court interpreter exams are, in my words, ridiculously hard, to the extent that it is a select few indeed who have either the talent, the patience to practice their skills ad nauseum, or the perseverance to not throw in the towel. I am personally in the process of trying to pass the Consortium state oral exam for Spanish in the state of Wisconsin. My results have been disappointing with the consecutive section of the exam, although I did pass the simultaneous and sight translation sections on my first attempt in 2012. I have now attempted the consecutive section FOUR times and failed each time. My highest score was a 63%. I plan to take a University of New Mexico course in "intermediate consecutive interpreting" beginning the end of May 2014. Wish me luck :)

Good luck with the Federal exam should you try again!! All things are possible, right?


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