Preparing for Certification: Week 2

This week I assessed what I know about “the fundamentals of publishing” by doing Part A of the copy-editing practice test.

I went to the library to write the test. I work at home, and I’ve decided that I need to get out of the house to study. So this week I began what I hope will become a routine: on Wednesday afternoon I went to the Isabel Turner Branch for three hours. It was LONG. I rewarded myself afterwards with a Zumba class.

The test was also long – 14 pages. It’s a combination of multiple choice, matching questions, true/false, and short answer. This part of the test should be completed in less than an hour to leave enough time for the more demanding copy-editing passage in Part B. I finished on time but skimped on some of the questions and felt rushed.

Then I marked it using the answer key.

I got 91/119 = 76 percent.

I need over 80 percent to pass.

I lost marks for being out-of-practice with editing on paper, having no direct experience of production, not knowing how to convert imperial measurements to metric, and not being on top of technical issues like formatting, working with different file types and using a spell checker.

Converting imperial to metric. The note in the upper left is my son Jonathan's writing. He helped me find the formulas -- after I got zero!

Converting imperial to metric. The note in the upper left is my son Jonathan’s writing. He helped me find the formulas — after I got zero!

The thing with certification is that you have to learn some skills that you will never use, and you have to be able to work in ways that you might never actually work. I always edit on-screen using track changes and the comment feature of Microsoft Word. I never use hand-written copy editing symbols, although I do proofread by hand. But the test is hand-written, and so I have to be adept at using manual editing marks.

If I needed to convert imperial to metric – and I’ve never had to do so – I would google it. But in the exam, we are not allowed a smartphone. Not that I have one, anyway.

Just a calculator. Does this mean I will have to memorize several formulas for converting different types of measurements, like feet to metres, miles to kilometres, inches to millimetres, Fahrenheit to Celsius, tablespoons to millilitres? I certainly hope not. One of my tasks in Week 3 will be to find a style guide with conversion charts. The exam is open book, and we are allowed to bring up to three style guides.

Now that I have vented about short-comings – mine and those of the exam itself — I must say that studying for the test is making me read with more acuteness. Instead of grazing a book, my antennae are up. I’m alert to how what I read might apply to the standards for copy editing.

At the end of the afternoon, I reviewed my test results and jotted down what I need to learn and review.

A short list of things to learn or review

  • permissions and copyright
  • terminology used in publishing and printing
  • tools for editing, like spell checkers and macros
  • file types and their uses
  • conversions from imperial to metric
  • production and scheduling
  • conventions and parts of books, websites, journals, reports
  • copy editing marks
  • French in an English context

Having doubts

In response to my Week 1 blog post, my brother Neil, ever the pragmatic one but always on my side, said, How much does the test cost? Why not take it and pass, or take it twice and save the 42 hours of studying?

The exam costs $450. If I study for 42 hours @ $35/hour (I work mainly for academic presses), the study time will cost me $1,470. Most experienced editors earn at least $45/hour, and at that rate the study time costs $1,890. Add to that the cost of the exam and travel to Toronto …

Dear, oh dear.

I am easily swayed by contrary voices within and without. For encouragement, I searched back issues of Editors Canada publications and found this:

Regardless of the outcome of that test, and of my Copy Editing exam, preparing for the tests has been an excellent professional development exercise.
Donna L. Dawson, “My Certification Experience,” Active Voice/La Voix active (Winter 2008). Donna is now a Certified Professional Editor

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