Sign Language Interpreter BEI Testing

Sign Language Interpreter BEI testing can be a frustrating and stressful experience for pre-certified interpreters. Our job relies on passing certification tests in order to legally qualify for work. Compared to many professions, sign language interpreting is very young in its development. There are ongoing debates about the most accurate, objective way to test sign language interpreters. Because testing has been transformed several times in the past thirty years both at a state and national level, it can be a challenge to prepare interpreters for current tests. The current test implemented in Missouri and Illinois was adopted from Texas and is called the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) Test. There is a written English test that must be passed before taking one of the three performance tests. Read more in our blog about the structure and reliability of the BEI.

sign language interpreter BEI testingMy Personal Experience

As a BEI Basic sign language interpreter, I have taken the BEI Advanced level test and failed. Upon finding I failed, I doubted myself. The feedback I received in the community versus the testing environment did not seem to align. I felt prepared to become an Advanced interpreter in the community, but I couldn’t seem to pass the test.  This began my journey through testing, failing, and finding how to cope in a positive way.

The first time I took the BEI Advanced test I was excited to see how it compared to the former Missouri Interpreter Certification (MIC) test and the current Registry of Interpreters (RID) National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test.  I found the national test to be a quality test.  My complaint, as with every other test I’ve taken, is that the test is brief at just 45-60 minutes.  How can I truly show my skill in under an hour?

The BEI Structure

Sign Language Interpreter BEI testing gives a sufficient introductory synopsis at the beginning of each portion and a practice section so you can see who the presenter/speaker/signer is before beginning your interpretation.  Mentors and other interpreters had advised me to treat the test as a real job.  I did so as best I could.  Looking back, I would not recommend this…not exactly.  You may not ask for clarification or pause during the test.  The key is to keep interpreting; and, if you have time, repair.  But my issue has always been missed information because I am processing past information.  Don’t worry about making it beautiful.  Keep listening or watching.  Make it clear, but the key is to get as much information interpreted as possible.  They rate on a rubric meaning there are specific words or phrases for which they will be looking.  If you catch the first targeted section but miss the second, you will be counted as missing the entire portion.

Don’t Give Up

So much in our world we strive for the next promotion, the next advancement, the next applause.  This journey has taught me to be content with my current level both in experience and certification.  Yes, I am itching to get into medical and mental health interpreting (which requires an Advanced Certification), but it is not hurting me to continue to build my skill and get experience testing.  The tests will not go away.  They are still being developed and debated.  The more experience and education I receive now, the more benefit I can be to my community throughout a long-term career.   I will pass the test in the future, but I only have one day – today – to impact my community.  Keep it in perspective.  A test is a moment; your career is a lifetime.


Additional Resources:

Board for Evaluation of Interpreters Requirements

Illinois BEI Testing and Certification

Missouri Interpreter Certification System

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review