Testing copyeditors, Part 1: Skip the editing test

September 15, 2019 By Erin Brenner

Editing tests taken as part of a job interview are a contentious topic among copyeditors. While some editors have no problem taking them, others are quite vocal about not taking them.

In this new series, I’ll look at the question from both sides: the test takers and the test givers. Why would editors want or not want to take a test? Are there alternatives to taking a test? And what about the hiring agent: Should you give a test? And if so, how can you best test someone’s skills, especially if you’re not an editor?

Why Wouldn’t You Take a Copyediting Test?

The biggest reason that I’ve seen to not take an editing test is that the person who will grade the test isn’t qualified to do so. It’s one thing if the grader will be, say, a senior editor (even if the test is administered by someone else), but a department manager, HR staffer, or newbie writer isn’t necessarily qualified to grade a copyediting test. Editing is as much an art as a science, so even having an answer key isn’t helpful to non-editors.

Closely related to that is a poorly written test, usually created by someone who’s not an editor. Why would you take a test that doesn’t adequately test an editor’s skills?

Then there are the tests designed to get several editors to edit a project for free under the guise of a test. If you suspect that’s the case, skip the test and alert other editors to the scam. You don’t have to publicly shame the person by name, especially with the risk of libeling someone, but you can describe the ad you answered and invite editors to contact you privately for more information. The Copyediting-L, EAE Backroom, and professional organizations’ members-only forums (e.g., the Editorial Freelancers Association) are good places to post such information.

Another reason to pass on an editing test is that you have been editing a long time and your published works and recommendations are evidence enough. This reason troubles me. Longevity doesn’t necessarily equal skill. Unfortunately, there are plenty of poorly trained—even untrained—editors who have been gainfully employed for decades, doing a poor job. We would like to think that our résumés speak for themselves, but they rarely tell the whole story.

And those recommendations? As with the tests, a lot depends on who’s giving the recommendation.

A final reason for not taking an editing test is that the test won’t test what you will actually do. Such a test is a waste of everyone’s time and won’t necessarily help you get the job. It’s much better to explain to the hiring agent why the test won’t give the desired results. It’s a risk, of course, but the whole hiring process is a risk. Educating the hiring agent could demonstrate your skills far better than taking any test.

This article was originally posted on the Copyediting website on September 1, 2015.

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