5 Study Tips For the Medical Interpreting Exams (NBCMI & CCHI)



1. Become familiar with the structure of the exam

A significant part of knowing how to prepare for an exam is knowing what you will be tested on. Fortunately, NBCMI and CCHI have two fantastic resources known as Candidate Handbooks, where you can view the exam structure, topic areas, grading criteria, and what they are looking for in candidates. This can be very useful for developing an effective study strategy.

For instance, if you look at the format of the NBCMI oral exam, you’ll see that they give you 45 to 60 minutes to complete two sight translations and 12 mini-scenarios. The mini-scenarios consist of 12 different dialogues from different medical specialties, such as diabetes, obstetrics, neurology, etc. This means you will be jumping through different conversations and encounters. Knowing this gives you a good idea of what the exam experience will be like and avoids any confusion when recording your interpretation!

I find the NBCMI Candidate Handbook particularly useful because it includes a ”content list” that specifies all the possible medical specialties that can come up in the exam. You can use this content list as a guide to decide which topics you should practice with and keep an eye on topics you need to become more familiar with. You can even do an exam simulation where you practice for the same amount of time the exam would last and go through each of the medical topics using role-play scenarios. This way, you make sure you don’t miss any important topic, and you’ll have a well-rounded, balanced practice!

You can download the NBCMI and CCHI Candidate Handbooks by clicking here and here, respectively.

2. Practice consecutive interpretation nearly every day 

This is the most important tip on this list! Consecutive interpretation accounts for a significant portion of your grade on the oral exam. This mode of interpretation is very demanding and takes many hours of practice to master. You should also practice simultaneous and sight translation, but the majority of your time should be spent on consecutive interpretation, as this is the mode of interpretation most commonly used in real-life medical interpreting encounters.

To practice your consecutive interpreting skills, choose interpreting practice materials that include at least 1) a written script that you can review and 2) an audio recording that you can listen to if you want to practice alone. Ideally, you would want to have a translated script, but this may not always be possible for all languages; this is the more reason why you want to have the written script in case you need to translate it on your own or in teams. InterpreMed does this for you in Spanish; we have hundreds of scripts with audio that have been translated into Spanish, as well as English-Language Neutral versions for speakers of all other languages to translate alone or in teams, as you can see in the video below!

Once you have your practice materials, make it a habit to practice for at least 1 hour every day, so your brain can benefit from learning with spaced repetition; in other words, learning by taking small daily steps over a period of time to improve your skills. This is better than waiting to study on the weekend or one specific day for too many hours and overwhelming yourself. You want to give your brain time to learn, but that will only happen if you are disciplined and practice every day, without distractions or multitasking. Focusing on interpreting only during your practice sessions, and doing so as often as possible, will pay off great dividends in the form of skill and knowledge!

3. Improve your note-taking skills

For the vast majority of candidates, one of the main challenges of consecutive interpretation is memory retention. And how do we help our memory? With notes! Note-taking can be the missing piece to increase your interpreting accuracy. For note-taking in medical interpretation, we use a combination of abbreviations and symbols. Symbols are particularly helpful because they capture the meaning of ideas in one image, and your brain loves this visual input. If you have learned a good amount of symbols, that’s already half the battle to improve your memory. At InterpreMed, I have a Basic Note-taking Course and a Memory Club where you can learn how to organize your notes and memorize symbols to increase your accuracy, so make sure to check those resources if you’re struggling with notes. 

4. Record your renditions and compare them with the script

You’d be surprised by how many details you only notice when listening to your own rendition recording. You may notice that you stutter a lot or that you tend to omit certain parts of the message. Listening to your recording is the first step to improving your delivery style and accuracy. You can compare what you said versus what was said in the original message with the script. This gives you a good idea about the information that you captured, omitted, changed, distorted, or perhaps the translation of a term that needs a bit of improvement.

For about a year before taking the oral exam, I used to listen to my recording of myself interpreting and underline, highlight, circle, or put an asterisk on the sections that needed to be better rendered or the sections where I did a pretty good job. I even came up with little acronym letters that I would superscript or subscript to a sentence, like O for omission, D for distortion, T for a mistranslation, etc. This helped me understand what were my strengths and weaknesses as well as improve my voice and speaking style too. So, highly encourage you to record yourself interpreting! My go-to desktop app for recording myself is Audacity.

5. Ask for feedback

During practice sessions, you could end up spending a lot of time recording, reviewing the script, and looking up unfamiliar terms. Practicing regularly also requires a lot of discipline, which may be difficult to have sometimes.

A good way to work around this is to have someone give you feedback, encouragement, and any useful tips and tricks for challenges you frequently face when interpreting. This will help you improve your skills much faster (and with less frustration) than if you did it all alone!

This is where having a coach or a study group can come in handy. It keeps you motivated, helps you maintain your practice over time, and you can get a variety of feedback from working interpreters, interpreters who have passed the oral exam, native speakers, and many more who can give you great insights into the nuts and bolts of how to prepare for the exam.

At InterpreMed we have live interpreting practice sessions in multiple languages! Mainly in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian, but all other languages are welcome, and we’ll provide you with the practice materials and the space to practice with peers. Our NBCMI & CCHI Oral Exam Study Guide is especially popular among our members who have successfully passed their oral exam!

Our InterpreMed Spanish group practicing medical interpretation for Emergency Medicine!

These were my five tips for today! Let me know in the comment section which tips you’d like to apply first! Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here to receive an email when we publish our next blog post!

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