We asked our freelance members for their opinions about editing and proofreading tests: tests set by a potential client to assess the freelancer’s suitability for the job. Here, Ayesha Chari shares what she sees as the pros and cons of editing tests.
You know that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling? The dreadful one before your first big school exam or right before that driving test. Or the tingly one on the quick descent of the Ferris wheel, maybe even while going up and down those weightless lifts to floor infinity. I love the thrilling flutter as much as I hate the panicky one.
It does come as a surprise then that my academic and non-fiction editing career has been built almost solely on voluntarily subjecting myself to the anxiety of editing tests. The first one, for an in-house copyediting role and my first job straight out of university, I’ll never forget: ‘edit this in 1 hour’ was the instruction. This was a 30-page, two-column, single line-spaced, printed article on geospatial satellites gobbledygook. I had no idea whether ‘edit’ meant to correct spelling and grammar or make sense of content or something else. I also had no idea what any of what I was reading meant or where/how I was supposed to write in the thumb-width margins. I got the job.
Since then, particularly as self-employed, I’ve taken every editing test that has come my way, more often seeking them out from publishers and other organisations, definitely too many to keep count. Some with a vague one-line brief, others with a 50-page style guide and dozens of accompanying files and instructions. Some where I’ve set the deadline and the client has agreed, others that have invaded my browser and set running counters. Some that I’ve flunked, several others where I’ve come out on top. Why? Because the pros far outweigh the cons.
Taking editing tests for potential clients can help to:
- quickly demonstrate expertise, training and professionalism to the client/employer
- plant the seed for a relationship of trust with a new client/employer
- self-assess skills objectively, whether you have formal editorial training and are starting out or are experienced and need to be kept on your toes.
- build self-confidence (no pain, no gain, plus who doesn’t like a random ego boost?!)
- identify areas that need to be strengthened or updated, subject/genre-wise or in technical expertise
- acquire new knowledge or reinforce previous learning, both useful professionally regardless of performance on the test
- improve time management and organisational abilities (e.g. following instructions of the test brief, editing to style specified, labelling files as asked, meeting deadline agreed or completing the test in the set time)
- account for some unconscious bias in recruitment processes, very useful if you fit any non-traditional/non-dominant label as an individual but also as a language user (you can have multiple first languages and choose to use only one of them in your editing career – the test eliminates having to justify ‘otherness’)
- find (and get!) the next big gig or dream editing job
- lay the ground for negotiating your next big raise or up your freelance fees.
Taking editing tests for potential clients does not:
- guarantee work, particularly if passing the test is a route to getting on a freelance list of editors (catch-22 situation: those more experienced on the list will invariably get offered work more often/first; without getting on the list and getting work, you can’t become more experienced)
- give the whole picture of your expertise or transferable abilities to the client (I picked the wrong file topic on a timed test once, and everything went downhill from there)
- help imposter syndrome on a bad hair test day (we’ve all been there)
- save time when you already have little to spare (test results can take a few days, weeks, or months even, a contract several more, and a first assignment even longer)
- account for all bias, unconscious or otherwise (so you may not bag the job even if you do well on the test)
- alleviate fear of failure.
I’m unlikely to overcome the panic of taking a test any time soon, especially those rotten timed ones. But for the joy of a flutter, I highly recommend taking them. You might just get hooked (and make a career as I have)!
Wrapping up: editing tests
Tests are used by organisations to assess a potential freelancer’s or employee’s editing or proofreading abilities. They can:
- build self-confidence
- highlight development needs
- reduce the influence of unconscious bias
- form the foundation of a successful business relationship.
Have you taken an editing or proofreading test? Or have you set one as a way to assess a freelancer’s abilities? Tell us more in the comments.
We’ll be sharing more members’ opinions in a future post.
About Ayesha Chari
Ayesha Chari is a sensitive academic and non-fiction editor, who (much to the amusement of both the driving instructor and her partner) was once terrified of taking a test for a UK driving licence despite having driven in India for a decade, but who passed both the theory and practical tests on the first attempt.
About the CIEP
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
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Photo credits: butterfly by Patrick Lockley; ferris wheel by Michael Parulava, both on Unsplash.
Very well described, Ayesha.
I do wish employers would ask candidates to give feedback on tests as there as are usually instructions and expectations that could be clarified (or even given in the first place), and who better to do that than the person taking the test?
I gave unsolicited feedback on a timed test once – and got the job!
Ooh! Well done! Did you give the feedback before being offered the job?
Yes. As soon as I’d sent the test back I noticed an error – there’d been no time to check my work with the clock ticking. I wrote a quick email saying that it wasn’t representative of my usual quality because of the strict time frame.
Good advice to share feedback with the test-setter/giver. I’ve done it a couple of times – not with the same success as Alex though! I think there’s been only one time that I was specifically asked to do so and was thanked profusely.
Tests are a routine challenge.
Needed and well serving when fair.
One test had a software issue that did not allow my answer to be recorded.
It was an easy test. I concluded suspiciously the job was already awarded. The test shenanigan was to.complete the “paperwork” of having sought more candidates for choice.
I also appreciate your insight, Ayesha, about reducing bias. It chimes with me in that I interchange my names, Alex and Alexandra, wondering if there may be unconscious gender bias in the reader. The number of times I’ve turned up for an event and people have said: Oh, I was expecting a man!