Report on IPEd Workshop/Dinner Meeting

On Thursday 20 March, 48 editors arrived at the IPEd exam preparation workshop with style guides and red pens at the ready.

The first speaker was Susan Keogh. Susan's list of achievements is lengthy and impressive, but the audience groaned when she confessed she was responsible for writing the 'Horse racing in Australia' copyediting exercise on the 2008 accreditation exam. Obviously, many of us in the room had struggled through that piece, which ranged from a discussion of horse racing ('horseracing') from its origins on the Mongol steppe ('the steppes of Mongolia'), through Queen Ann's rein ('Queen Anne's reign'), to an incomprehensible list of which country towns hold race meets on particular days of the week. And let's not even mention that table of Melbourne Cup winners.


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Frith Luton, Sue Harvey and Susan Keogh confer before their presentation.


Susan's first piece of advice was to download the sample exams from the IPEd website. They are the best guide to the format of the exam and the kind of questions that will be asked.

Her experience as a marker was that candidates who completed Part A easily (24 sentences testing basic grammar, punctuation and spelling) generally passed the exam. Those who struggled with Part A were unlikely to be successful. This statement alone did a lot to ease the anxiety in the room.

Susan told us that it wasn't the content of the exam that was difficult, but what she called 'exam conditions'. The content is deliberately drawn from typical scenarios that arise from real-life editing work and is designed to test experience and knowledge. However, many working editors may not have sat an exam for decades, and the formality of the setting and the time pressure can be stressful.

She recommended planning ahead to make sure that the exam day is as stress-free as possible. You must bring your receipt from IPEd as proof that you have registered. Without this, you will not be allowed to sit the exam. If you don't have a receipt yet, check now that you have registered and paid correctly. Special requests (like bringing your own chair or asking for additional time) will often be approved, but you must organise that well before the day of the exam.

Get someone to drive you to Wesley College so you don't have to worry about finding a park. Bring water and some snacks, but avoid eating a heavy lunch beforehand. Pre-pack a bag with the material you want to bring in with you. Remember that you must write in pen, not pencil. No smart phones are allowed, so you might want to bring a watch, although there is a clock in the room and the invigilators will give regular time calls.

Candidates are allowed to bring in any reference books they want, but Susan recommended not having too many. There simply isn't enough time to flick through pages hunting for information. You can bring in your own notes, but they must be typed and spiral or comb bound, and they can't have any handwritten annotations. If you are using a customised style guide (for example, one you are familiar with from your day job), you can use that but you must leave a copy with your exam for the markers to refer to.

There was some discussion about whether or not IPEd allows handwriting in books like the Style Manual. Our Accreditation Board delegate has since confirmed that you can bring in written notes in your reference books, and also on sticky notes or adhesive flags for marking pages.

When the exam starts, Susan's advice is to treat it like a very busy day at work. 'Imagine that you have three small jobs to do and a very tight timeline.' The key to the exam is the same as working to a deadline: manage your time.

To help us plan our time effectively, Susan explained the marking system for the three parts.

There are 24 possible marks for Part A, with a maximum of 20 going towards your overall exam mark. If you attempt all the questions, you can get four wrong and still receive the full 20 marks.

Part B is worth 40 marks. Because you accrue points for things like copyediting mark-up and items in your style guide, you could collect all 40 marks even if you don't fix everything in the manuscript. Be warned: it is easy to get bogged down in Part B so make sure you stick to your allotted time. Remember to read the instructions carefully and use proper editing mark-up (in text, not in the margins). If you are asked to write ten author queries, don't waste time writing 20. You will also lose marks if you introduce errors into the text.

Part C is less forgiving, with no safety margin in terms of picking up marks. It is vital that you read the questions carefully and choose wisely. Some Part C questions ask you to answer 'four of the six parts'. It will cost you important marks if you only answer three parts. If you are running out of time, use bullet points or write down key words.

Candidates must have an overall score of 80% to pass the exam, but must also achieve at least 65% in each section. There is no point spending extra time on Part B if it means that you're going to struggle to complete Part C.

Susan went to great lengths to impress upon us that the examiners want us to pass. 'Something is always better than nothing,' she said. 'We can't mark work that you haven't done.'

Messiness is not a concern for the examiners. Susan acknowledged that editors are often very neat people, but in an exam situation there isn't time to rewrite your author queries out nicely. 'If you change your mind, just cross it out. The important thing is that your answers are clear.' Her advice is to imagine you have to scan your marked-up proofs to send to a typesetter overseas. Oh, and don't use liquid paper! There will be no spare copies of the exam paper on the day, though.

Susan also stressed that if something is bothering you during the exam to the extent where you feel it is affecting your performance (e.g. too much sunlight coming in through a window, a sudden onset of a migraine, an allergic reaction to the perfume of the person sitting next to you), it is vital that you tell the invigilators as soon as you can. Don't wait until after the exam has finished to mention it.

Susan's advice for preparing for the exam was to find a study buddy and have a couple of sessions going through past exams together. Editors tend to be very independent people who are used to working alone, especially freelancers, but having someone else to study with can be very useful.

Some people found study partners at the workshop, and Editors Victoria has also helped put together a study group. If you would like to be put in touch with other people sitting the exam, email us and we'll pass your details on.

Our next two speakers, Sue Harvey and Frith Luton, spoke about their experiences of sitting the exam. They agreed with Susan that time management and not panicking were the keys, and offered some thoughts.

  • Do a practice exam in the time limit.

  • Use the 30 minutes of reading time to choose your four Part C questions.

  • Divide up your time and write down your time allocation at the start of the exam (and stick to it).

  • In Part B, write lots in your style sheet, including those things that normally just live in your head or seem obvious.

  • Make sensible choices about which four questions to answer in Part C. Don't choose the fiction editing question just because you'd like to be a fiction editor one day. If you struggle with numbers, don't choose the tables question because it looks at first glance as if it might be easy. Know your strengths and choose based on those.

After all that advice, it was time to put some of it into practice.


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Susan starting the clock for the practice question.


Everyone had copies of Part C of one of the sample exams available on the IPEd website and Susan gave us five minutes reading time and 15 minutes to tackle one question.


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Reading the sample exam.


With their heads down, and their pens in hand, the room was silent for 20 minutes apart from the rustling of papers and the occasional quiet sigh.


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Working through the practice Part C question.


For those who took part, the answers for the sample exam are on the IPED website.

And Susan's final piece of advice? 'You'll all be FINE!'

Lorna Hendry

Newsletter co-editor and IPEd accreditation exam candidate


For the latest information on the exam, download these Notes on the 2014 exam, Accreditation FAQs or check the guidelines for candidates on the IPEd website.

Contact Editors Victoria's Accreditation Board Delegate if you have any questions about the exam.