After I wrote my last post, I had an “uh-oh” moment. I wrote on and on about anticipating my oral exam for state court certification, and even named the date and time I was taking the exam. And then I was like, “uh-oh. I just made a really publically big deal about taking this test. What if I don’t pass it?”
My exam date has come and gone. It has been scored, the results recorded. So before I tell you about getting my results, let’s talk about what happened during the time that passed between my last post and this one. Lessons learned. (Just to be clear, we’re talking here about lessons from test-taking strategies, not interpreting in the field.)
There was certainly a recurring theme as I prepared that ended up being a great lesson. That theme was Just Keep Going. When I went to my initial two-day workshop to prepare, the facilitator told us, “When you’re in the exam, if there’s a term you don’t know, don’t try to go back and correct it. Don’t let yourself get stuck on it. Don’t stop. Just keep going.” A few weeks later, I attended an all-day simultaneous interpreting workshop. The facilitator told us, “In the exam, don’t get tripped up on something you don’t know how to say, or when you blank on a word. Whatever you do, just keep going.” Ah-ha, maybe there was something to this Just Keep Going thing.
Finally, the friend and colleague who helped me prepare (you can read her blog here) told me during our last practice session, just a few days before the exam, “Liz, whatever you do, no matter what happens during the exam, Do. Not. Stop. Just keep going.” She was like a coach preparing a fighter to go in to the ring. “Just keep going. Because if you stop, you’ll get lost. It’ll be gone and you won’t be able to recover.”
If you’ve taken this exam, you may be nodding your head in agreement. If you’re not familiar with this test, the reason that you have to Just Keep Going is because the test just keeps going. Here’s the deal: They sit you down with headphones, and you listen to a recorded dialogue and then you begin your interpretation, which is recorded and then scored. There is no allowing for the candidate to get tripped up and tell the proctor, “Hey, can you back up the recording, I got kind of lost at that one part there.” You don’t keep going, and your score tanks.
In the weeks leading up to the exam, I was preparing for at least a couple hours a day. I would come home from work (supervising health care interpreters), listen to a recorded dialogue, record myself doing the simultaneous interpretation, and then listen to my recording and compare it with the transcript of the dialogue. After noting my errors, I would go back and interpret the same dialogue. And then I would go back again and note my errors. Over and over again. Sound tedious? I loved it. Yeah, it was a big time commitment and it intruded a teensy bit on my social life, but I loved it all the same. I was amazed at how quickly I improved. I am amazed at what we can train our brains to do. My interpreting practice was so engaging, I thought, “I need more of this in my life.” I felt like my brain was sparkling.
The night before my exam, at the recommendation of my “coach”, I didn’t do any interpreting practice. When I went in for the exam the next day, I felt relaxed. During the exam, while I was interpreting, I felt clear-headed and intensely focused. I stumbled a couple of times, but I never stopped. It’s a quick test, which adds to the pressure. I perform pretty well under pressure. But as soon as it was over, I felt shaky and my heart was racing. Afterwards, I thought a lot about the things I did right. I was expecting a good score, and two weeks later when my results came in the mail, delivered in a big envelope (not a little one), I knew. I grabbed the big envelope from my mailbox and held it for a few moments before opening it to read the letter congratulating me on passing the exam.
As much as I disliked the idea of writing a follow-up tail-between-my-legs post about failing the exam, I don’t think this was in any way the motivation behind my preparation. I think my efforts were driven by something deeper. There is just something about interpreting. It’s like, my “thing”, you know? If you have a “thing”, I know you know. This is only the first step on this path for me. Passing a test is one thing. Performing on the job is another. It is at once thrilling and bittersweet, contemplating the possibilities for this new beginning while knowing that other parts of my professional life will then come to an end, and I will move through the challenges we all face when gracefully letting go of one thing so that we can welcome and embrace something new. There have been so many lessons learned already; some for the first time, and others are reappearing.
So far, my favorite lesson from this new journey is Just Keep Going. It’s not always (or ever?) going to be flawless. Sometimes you’ll stumble. There will always be something you don’t know, something new to learn. Sometimes you’ll get knocked down. So, get knocked down. Rally. Catch your breath. Get back up. Come out swinging. Just Keep Going.