More about the CIEP’s basic editorial test

Page owner: Professional standards director

Why does the CIEP have an editorial test?

Most members who take our test do so to support their application to upgrade their membership. We developed the test in 2014 to make upgrading accessible to members with a wide range of professional backgrounds. This was in response to requests from members who wanted to upgrade but had difficulty in showing the worth of their training and/or experience.

Upgrading your CIEP membership requires you to show that you’ve had sufficient training and work experience and, for the two Professional grades, to supply references. This was working well for many people, but not all; you might be experienced and still meet obstacles.

  • What if your client is happy with your work but has no idea what good editing looks like? Your experience working for them won’t prove your editorial competence, and neither will a reference from them.
  • What if you don’t have much information to demonstrate what your training consisted of, perhaps if you learned on the job rather than through training courses? It can be difficult or impossible to show the extent or nature of in-house or private training you may have received, especially if some time has passed.

Some people’s careers don’t fit the traditional publishing model – but we don’t want that to be a bar to upgrading. With this test, we aim to make it possible for any competent proofreader or copyeditor to prove their competence.

What format is the test in, and why?

Some publishers ask potential suppliers to take editorial tests, but these are usually passages of text that the publisher asks you to mark up. They then have your work assessed by a person with editorial expertise. The CIEP doesn’t have the capacity to do this for the several hundred members who apply to upgrade each year, so we designed a multiple-choice test.

How did the CIEP decide what skills the test should cover?

Not all CIEP members copyedit, so it would not be fair to set a basic test that required knowledge of copyediting. Proofreading is not a lesser skill nor essentially different; it is copyediting in miniature. It is wrestling with text, but wrestling in a broom cupboard. All our members should have the knowledge and skills required for proofreading (even if their skills are rusty or they never do it at all), so the test is based on what a good proofreader should know or be able to deal with.

What is 'competence'?

The editorial test is in two parts: professional practice (including business practice and ethics) and editorial skills and knowledge. You need to have above-average English; accurate observation; good judgement of tone, balance and context; and the ability to follow instructions. You should know what a proofreader does, what other editorial professionals do, the terms and symbols they use, and some general knowledge. This last is hard to define, but it matters; we should know there is something wrong if we read of ‘a man weighing 2kg’ taking ‘a train south from Brighton’ pulled by ‘Thomas the Tanker Engine’.

The tests have to balance the needs of the Institute, the individual member and potential clients. Our members may specialise in medical journals, mediaeval mysteries or marketing material; do we expect them to know anything else? Clients will assume they are all competent editorial professionals. We want to feel confident that our fellow members will sustain, even raise, the Institute's reputation. So the CIEP can’t appear to validate the editorial skills of someone with a very narrow skillset.

Is the test fair?

It is hard but fair. It is based on our published editorial syllabus, which in turn is based on respected published sources and a range of typical UK practice, and the time allowed is generous.

Two versions of the basic test were piloted with members who had recently upgraded from the Entry-Level grade; the majority passed, some failed, but 70% of them completed it within 45 minutes. The Council agreed to allow an hour. Three volunteers used a Mac; the rest used Windows. One took the test on a laptop; one used an iPad mini and found it worked well.

We haven’t tried to make the test impossible, just hard enough to mean something.

What does the basic test cover?

There are ten questions on the Code of Practice, followed by questions covering publishing and electronic terminology, accents and other special sorts, BS5261 marks, sequences in publishing and prelims, reference sources, acceptable styles, minimal editing and correcting a table. All questions are based on typical UK publishing styles.

There are no trick questions, though it is important to follow the instructions and read each question carefully. The answers are simple (if you know them!) but, as in real life, some answers are not obvious whereas others are very obvious.

How does it work?

The tests are hidden. You are sent a link allowing you to take the test once within a set period. It takes you to a landing page with information and instructions. When you are ready, you open the test and the clock starts.

  • The possible score is shown for each question, and a clock shows how much time you have left.
  • You can’t pause the clock, and the one-hour time limit means there is not much time to look things up; it is genuinely a test of what you know and can do. You can go back to check or change your answers.
  • Make sure you’ve scrolled all the way down on each page before moving on.
  • When you finish, or when the clock stops, you click Next to see your score, which is sent automatically to the test administrator.
  • After that you can see, page by page, what you got right and wrong.
  • The pass mark is 75%.
  • If you fail, or just want to get a higher mark, you can retake the test – once only until we have more spare tests – for the same fee as your first test.

For more info …

You can find more details about the test in our Basic editorial test FAQs. If you have questions about it that aren’t answered there or on this page, please email the CIEP’s .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).