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Preparing for Certification
Before you attempt any of the certification exams, we recommend that you have at least five years of professional experience at editing a wide variety of documents.
This isn't a rule—it's a guideline. If you've worked part time as an editor for six years, that may not be long enough. If you've been working full-time for four years and feel that you've experienced enough different editing situations to pass one of the exams, you may be ready.
It's important to have a certain breadth of experience. Like many editors, you probably don't work in all four skill areas—proofreading, copy editing, stylistic editing and structural editing—which means you may not have enough experience to pass all four exams.
Be sure your experience is relevant to the exam(s) you plan to write.
And be sure your experience includes more than one medium. If all you know is magazine publishing, for example, you need to find a way to broaden your knowledge, so you also know about books, websites, and corporate and government documents, or you'll be disadvantaged on the exams.
Once you have the recommended level of experience, it's critical that you prepare carefully for each exam you write.
Most successful candidates report that they have studied and practised intensively in the months leading up to the exams.
Preparation Quick Links
FREE WEBINAR: Are You Certifiable? Preparing for Editors Canada's Certification Exams
Length: 1 hour
Learn everything you ever wanted to know about Editors Canada's certification exams from certified professional editors and members of the Editors Canada certification steering committee, who will provide valuable tips on how to prepare for the exams. Session participants will leave with a clear picture of what professional standards we are testing for, tips from certified professional editors on how to prepare, and recommendations of invaluable study resources.
Anne Brennan, CPE, is a Vancouver-based editor specializing in educational, technical, and corporate materials. She is the former co-chair of Editors Canada's certification steering committee.
Jeanne McKane, CPE, is a Toronto-based freelance editor specializing in health care and medical editing. She is co-chair of Editors Canada's certification steering committee.
The first step in preparing for a certification exam is to do an in-depth review of the standards that will be tested, assessing your ability to apply them.
The Editors' Association of Canada (Editors Canada) offers two resources to help with this:
Professional Editorial Standards (2016)
Professional Editorial Standards (2016) sets out the editorial standards that are tested by Editors Canada certification. You can review it online and download it at no charge.
If you plan to take a certification exam, it's essential that you know these standards.
By carefully reviewing Professional Editorial Standards (2016) and identifying how each standard does or doesn't relate to your work, you can identify gaps in your knowledge and skill set.
Certification Test Preparation Guides
Working through the guide for the exam you plan to write is the best way to review the standards and identify gaps in your knowledge and skills.
It also helps you practise for taking a timed exam in an invigilated setting.
There are four Test Preparation Guides, one for each exam:
- Proofreading Test Preparation Guide
- Copy Editing Test Preparation Guide
- Stylistic Editing Test Preparation Guide
- Structural Editing Test Preparation Guide
You can order each guide as a download.
Make sure you have the correct software. For the Structural, Stylistic and Copy Editing exams, you'll need to have Microsoft Word installed on your computer. For the Proofreading exam, you'll need at minimum the free Adobe PDF reader, Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. Download it here. (if you have the subscription versions, Standard DC or Pro DC, that's fine!).
For the Proofreading exam, know how to mark up PDF files. As of 2021, the Proofreading certification exam will be offered on PDF (no longer on paper).You'll need to be familiar with using Adobe's annotations tools (inserting and deleting text; highlighting; and inserting comments in the form of "sticky notes"). We've put together a short guide on using the annotations tools. Click to download:
More Study Options
Once you've identified the areas you need to learn more about, you can choose from a number of study methods. Here are nine to get you started.
- Take Editors Canada branch seminars and college or university courses. Look for those that develop the skills specified in Professional Editorial Standards (2016), particularly the ones you need to work on. Past candidates have found courses in grammar and punctuation particularly helpful.
- Study books about grammar, punctuation, usage, proofreading, editing and publishing. Here are some examples of good books.
- The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, by Amy Einsohn (University of California Press, 2011)
- The Editor's Companion, Second Edition, by Janet Mackenzie (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
- Style: Lessons In Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams (Pearson Education, 2010)
- The Editor's Guide to Working with Authors, by Barbara Sjoholm (Rainforest Press, 2010)
- Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers, by Scott Norton (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
- The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago, by Carol Fisher Saller (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
- The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell (Norton, 2008)
- Butcher's Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-Editors and Proofreaders, by Judith Butcher, Caroline Drake and Maureen Leech (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
- The Copyeditor's Guide to Substance & Style: Learn How to Find and Fix Basic Errors in Text and Graphics, in Print and Online, Third Edition, by the Editors of EEI Press (EEI Press, 2006)
- On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser (Collins, 2006)
- The Longman Guide to Technical Editing, by Carolyn D. Rude (Pearson/Longman, 2006)
- The Oxford Guide to Style, by R. M. Ritter (Oxford University Press, 2002)
- Editing Canadian English, Second Edition, by the Editors' Association of Canada (Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 2000)
- The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White (Longman, 1999)
- Editors on Editing, Revised Third Edition, by Gerald Gross (Grove Press, 1993)
- Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, by Claire Kehrwald Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986)
- Books About Grammar
- Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose, by Constance Hale (Three Rivers Press, 2013)
- The Great Grammar Challenge: Test Yourself on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar—and More, by the Editors of EEI Press (EEI Press, 2006)
- Making Sense of Grammar, by David Crystal (Pearson Longman, 2004)
- How Grammar Works: A Self-Teaching Guide, Second Edition, by Patrician Osborn (Wiley, 1999)
- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon (Pantheon Books, 1993)
- Executive Guide to Grammar, by Albert Joseph (International Writing Institute, 1987)
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss (Gotham Books, 2004)
- The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, Expanded and Revised Edition, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003)
- McGraw-Hill's Proofreading Handbook, Second Edition, by Laura Anderson (McGraw-Hill, 2006)
- Review all of the books you plan to use during the ex, and study at least one of the style guides in depth. For proofreading, copy editing, or structural editing, you are allowed to bring one dictionary, Editing Canadian English, and up to three style guides. For stylistic editing, you are allowed to bring one dictionary, Editing Canadian English, and either two style guides and a thesaurus or three style guides. You may want to add tabs or sticky notes to sections you refer to regularly. Examples of style guides include:
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- The Canadian Style
- The Canadian Press Stylebook and its companion, CP Caps & Spelling (together, these count as one style guide)
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
- MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing
- New Oxford Style Manual
- The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage
- Find a study partner or join a study group. It's helpful to meet regularly with colleagues to review Professional Editorial Standards (2016) and to work through Meeting Professional Editorial Standards and the Test Preparation Guides. You can improve your test-taking skills by working on the practice tests and then reviewing one another's work. You may also benefit from reviewing and discussing the sample pass and fail responses in the Test Preparation Guides.
- Practise marking up text with standard copy editors' and/or proofreaders' marks. You'll find them in The Chicago Manual of Style and The Canadian Style.
- Complete tests and quizzes on punctuation, grammar and usage that you find on the Internet.
- Practise editing and proofreading all kinds of documents. Work quickly, to build up your speed. Set time limits for yourself. You'll only have three hours to write the actual test, so make sure you're good at working carefully and quickly.
- Review tips and strategies for taking tests. This is particularly important if you haven't written a test or exam for some time. Past candidates have found it helpful to update their test-taking strategies, especially those related to time management.
Start studying several months before the exam. Six months should be enough time to prepare well.
Make sure you know the standard proofreaders' or copy editors' marks and terms (e.g., "run over," "run back").
Study the standards for proofreading, copy editing, stylistic editing or structural editing in Professional Editorial Standards (2016).
This will show you what types of tasks you need to be able to perform, as well as what's outside the standards being tested—and therefore what you shouldn't do on the exam.
Work through the exercises for your exam topic in Meeting Professional Editorial Standards, using the answer keys to carefully evaluate your work.
This can help you learn a lot about how you'll be evaluated on the real exam.
If you're unaccustomed to creating and using style sheets, for example, you'll find out what goes into a good style sheet and how it will be evaluated on the exam.
Carefully read the relevant parts of Chicago, as well as good reference books about your exam topic.
For stylistic editing, for example, read William Zinsser, Joseph Williams, Constance Hale and Susan Bell. For copy editing, read Amy Einsohn and Carol Fisher Saller.
Set up your reference guides for quick use. Put sticky notes on sections you use often and on topics you regularly need to look up.
Practise Taking the Exam
Use the following approach on a variety of documents, to practise your editing or proofreading.
Do it several times, and you'll be able to quickly and efficiently handle the exam documents, even if they're outside your usual medium, topic or client environment.
This is also the process you'll want to use during the exam itself.
It will allow you to start the exam quickly and efficiently, so you can feel calm and positive.
Allocate Your Time
Before you begin either a practice test or the real exam, check the marking scheme.
Use the marks to decide how much time to spend on each part of the exam. Allocate more time for sections that are worth more points.
Write down what time you should begin each part of the exam.
As you write the exam, keep an eye on your watch and stick to your schedule.
If you don't finish a section, you may have time to come back to it later.
Understand the Scenario
Each exam includes a selection of questions (true or false, fill in the blanks, matching, multiple choice and short answers) followed by a passage that you're asked to proofread or edit.
The passage is introduced by a scenario that tells you what you're expected to do.
The scenario might be an email from a managing editor, for example, asking you to do the following:
- fix the structural problems in a manuscript for a radio talk
- make the voice more personal
- cut 200 words
Or it could be a memo asking you to perform two tasks:
- incorporate an author's last-minute changes into a book chapter
- check that the copy editor's changes have been made
After you've worked through the practice test and studied the answer key and discussion, continue to practise by editing other documents.
These can be documents that come to you in the course of your daily work, ones you find on the Internet or even passages from books you pull from your own shelf.
For each document, create a scenario like the one in the Test Preparation Guide, to give yourself a focus.
Understand the Task
Before you begin, make sure you understand what's required. Ask yourself three questions:
- What do the markers expect you to do—and not do?
What kinds of changes are you expected to make? To what degree? What should you query? Are you required to add or cut material?
The answers depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The scenario you're given
- The stage of production
- How well the client understands proofreaders' or copy editors' marks
- How much the client knows about design—the less s/he knows, the more detailed your instructions should be
- Whether there's a design specification or template—If there is, don't make design changes or suggestions
When you're proofreading, if the typesetter's corrections are correct, you can let them stand—there's no need to mark them as okay.
If you're proofreading an author's alterations, it's fine to edit the new text.
If it's likely to cause overflow, you'll need to make cuts somewhere, or identify and query the layout consequences and suggest solutions.
- What elements of the document will you focus on, and what aspects of them?
Identify and then prioritize them, based on what's requested in the scenario.
- Where errors are likely to occur in this type of document and at this stage of production?
You may need to cross-reference within a document (e.g., a name mentioned in a caption and a name mentioned in the text), for example, or between documents (e.g., a teacher's guide and a student manual, or instructions and a form).
Plan Your Strategy
Understanding the task will help you create a plan, so you can:
- Launch calmly into the exam, knowing you have a process
- Get through the important things on time
- Avoid making changes you shouldn't
Use the following steps to plan your approach.
- Analyze the scenario to see what you need to do.
Make quick notes on scrap paper to outline your understanding of the task.
Remember that the marks are weighted in favour of the most important parts of the task.
Include information about the stage of production, particular challenges and where errors may hide.
Make a checklist you can follow while editing the passage.
Group the parts of the task into passes, in logical order. For instance:
- check table of contents second to last, in case you change chapter titles while editing
- check pagination last, so you can sort the pages into the correct order while checking the pagination
- If required, set up your style sheet.
Choose categories that fit the task. These categories might include the following:
Hand it in with the exam.
- Do the proofread or the edit.
Follow your checklist, creating a style sheet as you go, if required.
Watch the time.
Remember, you have only three hours to complete the entire exam.
- Be neat.
You don't want to lose marks because your directions are unclear!
It helps if you:
- Plan your queries before writing them, to ensure that they're concise and correct, and to estimate how much space they'll require
- Write your queries and marks as high on the page as possible, to allow space for more queries and marks further down the page
- Take time to write neatly—it helps the markers understand your comments, and it's faster than erasing and rewriting
- Remember not to exceed what's appropriate for the job.
Clients rarely appreciate suggestions for stylistic improvements if you're supposed to be proofreading.
Markers will penalize you if do more than what's called for.
So save your marks, and save your time for what matters.
- Take a last look over the document.
Have you done everything you're supposed to? Have you missed anything that could be worth points?
The following checklist will help you decide whether you're ready to take an Editors Canada certification exam.
The more check marks you have in the "Yes" column, the better prepared you are for an Editors Canada certification exam.
|Do I have at least five years of full-time experience as an editor or proofreader?|
|Is my experience reasonably broad?|
|Have I mastered the fundamentals of editing, in addition to the specific skills for the type of editing I'm doing?|
|Do employers, clients and other editors think my skills are excellent?|
|Have I studied Professional Editorial Standards (2016) in detail?|
|Have I worked through the Editors Canada Certification Study Guide for the exam I want to take?|
|Have I worked through Meeting Professional Editorial Standards?|
|Have I taken courses and/or workshops that may help me pass the exam I want to take?|
|Have I read books that may help me pass the exam I want to take?|
|Do I have a study plan?|
|Have I allocated enough time for preparation?|
|Have I found a study partner or joined a study group?|
|Have I reviewed all of the style guides I'm allowed to take to the exam site?|
|Have I reviewed Editing Canadian English?|
|Do I regularly use a variety of style guides?|
|Do I understand the differences between Canadian, British, and American English and editing practices?|
|Do I know how to mark up text with standard copy editors' and/or proofreaders' marks?|
|Have I looked on the Internet and in reference books for editing and proofreading quizzes that may help me evaluate and improve my skills?|
|Have I practised editing and proofreading all kinds of documents, working on both my editing/proofreading skills and my speed?|
|Have I upgraded my test-taking skills?|
|Have I prepared myself mentally and physically for exam day?|