As I wrote about here, and here, my lemonade-out-of-lemons project during the pandemic was doing the Glendon College/York University Master of Conference Interpreting (MCI) program, which moved online this year. It was a huge challenge and a great opportunity (more on that below), and last week I got the exciting news that I passed the exit exams and am officially an MCI. I’m really glad I jumped on this chance, and it’s a relief to have finished the program and passed the exit exams…now I just have to decide what to do with the degree!
How second semester went
In the two posts I linked to above, I wrote about my first month, and then my first semester as an MCI student. At that time we had some hope that Canada would open up to international students and we’d be able to be on campus at Glendon for the January-April term, but COVID had other plans, so we remained online. Second semester included the same classes we took during first semester, interspersed with some really great intensive courses with Helen Campbell, Michelle Hof, and Andy Gillies, which added a lot to our experience. As in the first semester, we also had the opportunity to interpret for many live events at Glendon, including a lot of conferences and seminars for Black History Month. Otherwise, things were much the same as during the first half of the year: I kept working part time doing translation, teaching online courses, and doing a little court interpreting, but the workload was manageable because there still was not much else to do during COVID.
The exit exam process
Classes ended in mid-April, and then we had about six weeks to focus on preparing for our exit exams. These are high-stakes, because at Glendon, as in most AIIC-endorsed conference interpreting programs, you don’t get the degree until/unless you pass the exit exams, no matter how you’ve done in the classes. I did the degree in English (A) and French (B), so I had four exit exams: a six-minute consecutive and a 12-minute simultaneous in both directions. Although Glendon offers retake opportunities, my goal was to pass all four exams on the first try so that I could just get the degree and move on with actually finding conference interpreting work.
I do best with a lot of structure, so I developed a really simple practice routine and just set a goal of going through that routine every single day, knowing that if I aimed for seven days a week, I’d actually probably do six days. I got this tip from Athena Matilsky when I worked with her to prepare for the Colorado Court interpreter exam. My routine was:
- Listen to French news (usually France 24 or France Culture) for around 15 minutes
- Practice numbers on the website numerizer for around 15 minutes
- Interpret one consecutive speech, alternating days between English and French
- Interpret one simultaneous speech, alternating days between English and French
This took around an hour, and I found that removing the analysis paralysis of deciding what to practice was really helpful. Instead of focusing on the best or optimal practice for that day, I just did the same sequence of exercises over and over again. I also practiced with other students from my program so that we could give each other feedback, which was also very helpful.
Exit exam week
We took our exams from home, using a platform called GoReact. I liked GoReact a lot because it plays the source video and records you at the same time, so that you don’t have to worry about running multiple platforms. We were able to practice with GoReact a bunch of times so that we wouldn’t be stressed about how to operate it on exam day, which helped a lot. I decided to control absolutely everything I could control during exam week, because I wanted to feel that if I didn’t pass, it was purely because my skills weren’t up to the standard that the evaluation jury expected, not because I was underprepared or because I didn’t have my exam-taking environment set up properly. My husband had the opportunity to go out of town and I encouraged him to do that so that I would have the house to myself and be able to be on my own schedule, and the night before my first exam, I went to a two-hour yoga class with live harp music and went straight to bed when I got home. A few other tips that our instructors and fellow students gave me that really helped:
- Make a checklist, so that you don’t sit down on exam day and realize that you don’t have a pen, or that your notebook is out of pages, or whatever. Include seemingly obvious things like getting a drink of water and going to the bathroom 10 minutes before the start time. This sounds really basic, but I wanted to set everything up with as little left to chance as possible and I knew I would be nervous on the day of the exam. Tip from fellow student Amélie Roy.
- Rather than focusing on giving a Carnegie Hall performance on exam day (which you probably won’t do because you’ll be nervous), focus on using the prep period to improve your overall skill level, so that if you do, let’s say 75% of your best on exam day, it’s still good enough to pass.
- Whatever happens on exam day, don’t stop once you’ve started a speech. If you have an internet glitch, or think it’s the wrong speech, or miss an entire sentence, or whatever, just keep going, because there’s still a chance you will pass, and if you stop in the middle of the speech, you will definitely fail.
My first set of exams was English into French (which was good for me, because it’s my harder direction and I got it over with first), then we had a rest day, then French into English. In the end I thought that the exam speeches were about what I expected: neither significantly easier nor significantly harder than I thought they would be. I felt very drained afterward, from the tension and anticipation, but I also felt that I had done a solid performance, and if I failed, there really was nothing to do except study more and try again.
But I passed! I was prepared to retake any exams that I had failed, but it’s also a relief to have successfully completed the program and be able to move on to looking for work. If anyone has questions about the Glendon program or about doing an MCI when you’re not 22 years old (I’m 49), just let me know in the comments. And if you too are harboring a big, crazy dream, go for it! It’s not too late, but someday it will be, and the time is going to pass anyway, so get going!