DipTrans: the Real Costs and Returns

This is a guest post by Gwenydd Jones.

This article will give you an idea of what getting the CIOL Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) from the Chartered Institute of Linguists cost me and the return I’ve enjoyed on my investment. It’ll help you anticipate what your own costs and returns might be if you sign up for the DipTrans exam in January to get this postgraduate qualification (the sign-up deadline is 30 September, with extension to 7 October).

If you’ve read my article about My DipTrans Experience then you may have figured out for yourself that the initial price of sitting the three papers and the centre fee will slowly grow if you fail a paper or two and have to resit. Paying to sit the exam is no guarantee of passing. To avoid wasting your money, I recommend you make an honest assessment of your risk of failing.

To avoid wasting your money, I recommend you make an honest assessment of your risk of failing

I know that sounds negative and, of course, there’s nothing to say you won’t pass on your first try. But most candidates don’t manage to pass all three papers first time. If you pass one or two, then you get a unit certificate and then have five years (three years from 2021 onwards) to pass the remaining papers to get the full qualification. I know people who resat and resat and never got that elusive pass. The pass rate varies between language combinations and paper, but I’ve seen figures of around 30–40%, often dropping as low as 20% in the Spanish-to-English combination, which is my area of expertise.

Most candidates don’t manage to pass all three papers first time

In 2007, I signed up for the DipTrans without much thought: it was cheaper than doing an MA and I assumed it would be easier and faster to get as well. Have you ever heard the expression “assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ ”? I took an online preparatory course, which cost about £1,000 at that time. In January 2008, I did all three papers, which today, in 2021, costs approximately £800, including the fee for the virtual centre. That year, the results came in late, in the summer, when I was shocked and distressed to discover I had failed paper 2.

In January 2009, I was living in Spain and working as an English teacher (note: not a professional translator). I had to haul myself and my suitcase full of dictionaries up to the British Council offices in Madrid. There were major computer problems and I knew the translation I produced was poor. All I came away with that time was a cold. Cost of resit, centre fee, AVE to Madrid and teaching cover at work: let’s say a conservative £550 (and it would have been more if it had been a paper 1 resit). ). I should note here that, from 2021 onwards, the CIOL has added an option to sit the exam remotely from your home. Candidates from The Translator’s Studio DipTrans preparatory course reported that the remote option works well.

After my miserable experience in Madrid, I put the exam on the backburner for a few years. I was frustrated at having failed twice and had other fish to fry with my MAs. By mid-2009, I had managed to transition from teaching English to becoming a full-time freelance translator without the qualification. This was the result of the DipTrans letter of credit (now unit certificates) I had received from the Chartered Institute for passing the first two papers in 2008. Other contributing factors were my progression through my MA in translation studies and the growing professional experience on my CV.

But I couldn’t let the five-year resit period expire without having one more go. I pumped in some more cash and went back to Cardiff in 2012, when I finally got my pass. Based on today’s prices, my total estimated cost of getting the DipTrans qualification, including the preparatory course, but not including the cost of my time, is about £3,000, a far leap from the initial £800.

Is the qualification worth that much money, time and stress?

Is the qualification worth that much money, time and stress? Well, all I can say is that I am glad I have it. I’d even consider doing it again if I wanted to introduce another language combination into my professional offering. The DipTrans is internationally recognised, certified proof of your translation abilities. It’s an OFQUAL-regulated postgraduate (level 7) qualification, i.e. master’s level. The CIOL DipTrans is a regulated exam without the Internet, unlike the ITI weekend-long open-book exam. All this means it provides undeniable evidence that you can translate to a professional standard. What’s more, you can get it through three exams, at least in theory.

If you’re an experienced translator without any language or translation qualifications, and not interested in investing the time, effort and money required to get a translation MA, then this may be a good option for you. If you have the level to pass the exams, the DipTrans will provide you with a relatively fast route to getting some translation-specific certification to put on your CV, a sure path to more and better-paid work.

If, on the other hand, you have little or no professional translation experience, I’d take some time to develop your skills first. One way to do this would be through an MA in translation studies and another alternative would be to do professional translation courses like the courses we offer at The Translator’s Studio for Spanish-to-English and French-to-English translators. The DipTrans is a qualification obtained through exam and not a course. This means that it doesn’t have any content to help you improve as a translator. It’s something you invest in, with the ultimate goal of making more money. Like all investments, it’s a good idea to assess your risk of coming away with nothing before jumping in feet (and wallet) first. You’ll find guidance to help you make that assessment in my article “Are You Ready for the CIOL Diploma in Translation?

Other recommended reading:

MA in Translation Studies and DipTrans: A Perplexed Translator’s Guide

Is It Worth It for You To Do an MA in Translation Studies

The Diploma in Translation. What is it? Why do I want it?

How I Passed the DipTrans: Top Five Tips

Gwenydd Jones is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer and founder of The Translator’s Studio. A chartered linguist, her qualifications include two MAs, the first in translation studies and the second in legal translation, and the CIOL DipTrans post-graduate diploma. Gwenydd draws on her professional, academic and linguistic experience in her translation courses to help other Spanish-to-English translators and translation students in their professional development and DipTrans preparation. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Photo by Sinenkiy from iStock

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16 thoughts on “DipTrans: the Real Costs and Returns

  1. Hi Gwenydd, thanks for the insight – it sounds like quite a gruelling exam! Do you think a DipTrans is worth doing if you already have an MA in Translation, or does it really depend on your other translation experience? I’m still unsure as to whether a Masters degree is recognised enough as a translation qualification!


  2. Hello Natalie, thanks for reading! I have heard of agencies that value one qualification more than another, though whether they prefer the MA or DipTrans varies. In the end, a translation qualification is only one component in forming a rounded professional. If you have an MA in Translation Studies and no translation experience, I don’t think the DipTrans would necessarily help your employability. It would be better to get more experience and build up your contacts and references. In my view, if you already have the MA, then the DipTrans would help your chances if you did it with a different source language to the one your MA was based on, since this would add a further skill to the mix.


  3. I imagine this is just the sort of frank assessment that people considering the DipTrans will find useful, so a big thumbs up for that, Gwenydd :).
    I took the DipTrans in 2008 after studying the City University preparatory course the year before, which consisted essentially of doing 28 past papers marked by an experienced and helpful professional translator. It took me about 20 of those translations to learn how to translate fast enough to get the words done in the exam timeframe (while maintaining the quality, of course). So I’d recommend plenty of preparation.
    As with any exam, your result depends partly on your ability and partly on whether you were ready to tackle it at the time. You hear these stories of child prodigies taking their maths GCSE at age 4 and getting a grade C, and the first thing I think is why didn’t they wait until they were 5 and get an A*?
    To sound a positive note, I got 2 Distinctions and a Merit in the 3 papers (IT>EN) at the first attempt before I had ever translated a word professionally – so it certainly can be done, although the ‘no internet’ exam conditions are a bit weird.
    Best of luck and keep at it!


  4. Hi Nikki, Gwenydd,
    Thank you so much for your insightful posts on the DipTrans. I graduated with an MA in Translation Studies with distinction two years ago (English-French). I also obtained joint certification for Unit 3 of the DipTrans for my main translation module. Since then, I have wondered whether I should sit the other two papers and what the return would be. I am now located in Auckland, New Zealand (previously in London) and I am unsure as to where and how I would be able to sit the exam…Again thank you for sharing your experience. This will help me make a more informed decision 🙂


      1. Too late to be of any use for 2017, but IoL will consider other centres not currently listed. In other words a New Zealand candidate could arrange to have the papers sent to a NZ university department if they are willing to provide invigilation. For complicated reasons I am unable to travel to any of the listed UK centres for the 2017 examination – I found IoL extremely helpful over arranging to have the papers sent to my local university (which is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London).

        Liked by 1 person

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