Computerized Certification Exam Taskforce

April 5, 2005

Executive Summary

After five months of deliberations, the Computerized Certification Exam (CCE) Task Force, established in October 2004, has selected and the Certification Committee has approved a system for the CCE. The system provider, ALTA Language Services, is a traditional provider of language testing, training and translation services, located in Atlanta, GA. Their system is Web-based, which means that the source-language texts are stored at their Atlanta headquarters and fed to the test site via the Web. Security is ensured by CD-based software that prevents the candidate from accessing other programs on the computers.

ALTA’s fee for their services consists of a one-time $13,000.00 setup fee (payable in three installments) and $1,500.00 per year for maintenance of the software and miscellaneous services related to the administration of the exams.

Other costs to ATA include fees for use of third-party facilities (mainly university computer labs), estimated at $4,000.00 per year, and for ATA proctors at a cost unchanged from current practice.

The Task Force’s recommendation has been approved by the Certification Committee.


The CCE Task Force

The CCE Task Force is composed of

Gabe Bokor (Chair)

Alan Melby

Veronica Albin

Jost Zetzsche

Cristina Marquez

Carla DiFranco

Certification Committee members who chose to join the Task Force ex officio and actively participated in its deliberations:

Lilian Van Vranken (CC Chair)

Celia Bohannon (CC Deputy Chair)

Terry Hanlen (Certification Program Manager)

Jutta Diel-Dominique

Diane Howard

A Yahoo Group was established for the CCE Task Force for exchanging messages and archiving relevant files. About 900 messages were exchanged during the five-month period of November 2004–April 2005 within the Group and privately between Task Force members.



By late February, the Task Force had narrowed down the choices to three potential systems provided by Rice University, ExamSoft, and ALTA. Each of these providers has offered computerized testing for many years, and could be used by ATA’s CCE with relatively minor modifications in their software, mainly with respect to security.

A comparative table of the three systems was prepared, presented to the Task Force, and discussed. This table is attached herewith and briefly summarized below.

Rice University’s system is Web-based, in use for the University’s Language Resource Center. It is designed to handle most languages in which ATA certification is offered, but it relies largely on the University’s "honor system" for security. By its internal regulations, the University is barred from entering commercial transactions, so its services to modify and administer the system, while free of charge, depend on the good will and availability of University personnel.

Exam Soft offers testing systems commercially, mainly for law schools and bar exams. The system is secure, relying on software that needs to be installed on the computer. While the exam software and the test itself must be downloaded via the Web, the exam can be taken without an Internet connection. Many Task Force members found the two-stage download and upload confusing and subject to errors. The company has no experience with foreign languages. They charge $35 per exam.

ALTA offers commercial language testing, in addition to translation and language training services. Their existing testing software is Web-based and taskforce members found it user-friendly. However, for security it relies on software installation on the computer used for the exam. This feature would deter many potential sites from hosting ATA exams. Therefore, at our request, ALTA agreed to redesign the software so that no software needs to be installed on the sites’ computers. The redesigned CD-based test delivery software should be available 16 weeks after the go-ahead from the ATA. The overall fee for ALTA’s services is considerably less than that charged by ExamSoft, although not comparable to that of Rice, who has offered their services at no charge to the ATA.

Specific issues like certification of the computers used for the exam for compatibility with ALTA’s system, continuity of service (if ALTA goes out of business or fails to renew the contract), measures in cases of computer/system failure, and tech support during the exams have been discussed and are addressed in ALTA’s latest proposal, attached.

In a poll taken among the Task Force members between April 6 and 8, nine members approved ALTA as a potential provider, with 0 votes against. Only one member who actively participated in the discussions abstained from voting after having previously indicated his preference for ALTA.

Justification for moving to a computer-based testing

Aside from an effort to address the fact that almost all professional translators currently work on computers and that tests have show the thought process involved in composing paragraphs on computers is markedly different from writing out the same material by hand, certification committee and CCE taskforce member Diane Howard has provided the following material which explains how the continued use of handwritten tests penalizes into- Japanese and into-Chinese candidates:

"I would like to address the specific advantages of a computerized exam for the into-Chinese and into-Japanese candidates. For those who are not familiar with the demands of character languages, Japanese literacy at the level of our exam requires knowledge of at least the 1,945 jouyou (common use) characters. For Chinese, the requirement is knowledge of between 3,000 and 5,000 separate characters. As can well be imagined, the percentage of these characters that can be passively recognized is much higher than the percentage that can be actively (and correctly) produced by hand. It is not only difficult to learn these enormous character sets, it is extremely difficult to maintain active knowledge of them. This is one reason that full literacy has been both rare

and highly prized throughout Chinese history. The advent of the computer, however, has reduced the need

to actively produce characters. The usual character input method is to type the romanization of a word and then to select the appropriate characters from a list that appears on the screen. This is much easier than remembering all of the strokes (as many as 30 for some traditional Chinese characters [that means 30 separate movements of your pen to write half a word]) required to write a character by hand. Not surprisingly, the younger generation in Asia has embraced word-processing enthusiastically, and, to the great distress of their elders, basically lost the ability to write characters by hand. In their article entitled "Kanji Knowledge as Read-only vs. Write-Only: The Effect of the Computer Age?," Kess and Miyamoto conclude that, "The arrival of the computer age has definitely enlarged the pre-existing discrepancy in size between writing-only and reading-only kanji sets.

This discrepancy will widen, as computer users become younger and younger." (The full article is available on the Web in pdf format.) This conclusion supports the argument that for the ATA certification exam to present a level playing field to candidates working into the character languages, the candidates must be able to use a word-processing system.

I would be happy to answer any questions or to provide addition information on this topic."


Testing considerations

Internet access and use of CD-ROM dictionaries and other electronic glossaries - Our exam passages are not heavy on terminology because we are testing core translation skills without extensive knowledge of a specialization. Therefore, Internet access is not vital to translate exam passages at a professional level.

The taskforce agreed that we must balance convenience and security, and early in our discussions we decided to sacrifice convenience (or real-life-likeness) for the sake of security. We all but refused Rice's offer of free software and will incur extra cost with ALTA to prevent Internet access. If we decide to allow Internet access and take the relatively small risk that candidates will be able to communicate with a colleague, we can do that by taking away features from ALTA's proposal and going back basically to their existing interface.

Another reason we decided to prevent Internet access and other translation aids was comparability with previous years' exams. This should be kept in mind before insisting on changing the program more drastically than the introduction of simple keyboarding would change it.

Internet access was removed out of security considerations, but can be re-introduced at any time.


Exam Sites

ALTA’s proposal requires that the exams be held at a site equipped with Internet-connected computers, which are then certified by ALTA to make sure they can handle the exam, including the languages involved. Certification of candidate- and/or ATA-owned computers in the future is not ruled out.

The Task Force has contacted several institutions, mainly universities, that may be able to host our exams. So far the following have given a positive response:





Rice University

Houston, TX



Tufts University

Boston, MA



Florida International University

Miami, FL


Free, except for proctor

San Diego State University

San Diego, CA


$300 / 8 hours, including proctor

Monterey Institute

Monterey, CA


$200 / day

Kent University

Kent, OH



Miami Dade College

Miami, FL


$25/first hour, $15/subsequent hours

George Mason University

Fairfax, VA


$200/sitting, including proctor

Montclair College

Montclair, NJ



University of Washington

Seattle, WA




Estimated CCE Cost to the ATA

The extra cost to be incurred by the ATA for the CCE consists of

  1. Fees paid to the system provider
    ALTA’s one-time setup fee is $13,000.00. In subsequent years (starting in 2006), the fee is $1,500.00 per year. In a year with 500 exams taken, this would amount to $3 per exam.
  2. Site fees paid for the use of computer labs
    Since we’re at the beginning of the site recruiting process, we don’t yet have a clear picture of the fees charged by potential hosts. Some of the potential sites’ costs are shown in the table under "Exam Sites."
    Anticipating 20 CCE sittings a year at an average of $200 per sitting, we should budget $4,000.00 per year for site fees.
  3. c) Fees paid to site proctors
    In addition to the ATA proctor, we should count on a site technician (possibly a student) at an average cost of $20.00/hour or $80.00 for a sitting of three hours plus one hour preparation and cleanup. Again assuming 20 CCE sittings a year, the total yearly cost for proctors would be $1,600.00.

  4. Miscellaneous
    Insurance, weekend tech support, and other miscellaneous costs.


In summary:



Setup Cost


Yearly Cost

(starting 2006)

Cost per Exam

(yearly cost/500)

System Providers Setup Fee




System Provider’s Yearly Fee




Site Fee




Proctor’s Fee













Part of this extra cost will be offset by savings at Headquarters for clerical labor, copying, and mailing. Those savings will also apply to the practice tests, which incur no extra cost for the computerized version compared to the current conventional form.



If the Board approves our proposal, we foresee the following timetable for implementing CCE:

April - May 2005: The ATA’s legal counsel reviews proposal, possible changes discussed with ALTA.

May 2005: CCE and ATA Executive Director approve final version of contract; "go ahead" to ALTA.

June 2005: Contract signed with ALTA.

June–July 2005: Announcement and information to the membership. Start with a computerized option for the practice tests, which will be also used for testing ALTA’s software (less the security feature).

August 2005: ALTA’s test delivery software development completed.

September–December 2005: Testing, debugging, and refining software, recruiting additional exam sites, developing ALTA’s site certification software, certifying of sites.

January 2006: Start optional CCE. Traditional paper-and-pencil exams can be offered as an option until the end of the 2006 exam year or beyond if required by the circumstances.


Next steps:

  1. The principle of gradual introduction of computers in ATA’s certification exams (Computerized Certification Exam) and the specific implementation of CCE using ALTA’s testing system.
  2. The estimated budget for one-time and yearly expenses as set forth above.
  3. The tentative timetable for the introduction of CCE as set forth above.