My test-taking anxiety began in elementary school. I could study until the cows came home, know the material cold, and still flunk the test the next day. But as a freelance editor, I’m regularly asked to take editing tests.

I’ve searched online and offline for strategies freelancers can use on these tests, and I‘ve even suggested test-taking classes to editing instructors. Media Bistro offers a class for taking editing tests, and Karen Judd discusses test-taking strategies in Copyediting: A Practical Guide. She advises, “look at an editing test as an open-book test. If you don’t know the answer, use the resources you have on your shelf and find it.” That pointer was eye-opening for me, because I’d been approaching every test the way I would a final exam.

However, I didn’t find much information otherwise, so I asked members of Copyediting-L. The list is maintained by Indiana University “for copy editors and other defenders of the English language who want to discuss anything related to editing.” Four members of the list responded to my query.

Michael Trudeau, copyeditor, proofreader, and owner of Belle Étoile Studios was one of the first CE-L members to respond to my query. He suggests:
•Editors should “figure out the client’s rates and pay schedule before taking a test.” He added, “I’ve taken long tests only to discover later that the client pays four months after invoice. What a waste of time.”
•“The fewer questions an unknown freelancer asks an overburdened editor the better. Instead, see if you can answer as many questions about the publisher’s style on your own.” For him, “this means going to the publisher’s website and browsing its titles and going to Amazon to ‘look inside’ its titles.” He said he did this recently and added, “The publisher’s house style guide was not comprehensive, but I found out what I needed to know by browsing through four of its titles on Amazon. The publisher has already sent me a project.”

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, freelance writer/editor and author of “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer”, and co-owner of Communication Central, suggests:
•Ask the prospective client which style guide they follow. If they don’t have one, tell them which you prefer to use.
•Ask if the test material has already been published. The ideal is to edit published material, not be conned into a free edit of new material.
•Put the test aside for at least a few hours, and review it one more time before sending it back.

Hilary Powers, freelance copyeditor, developmental editor, and author of “Making Word Work for You”, and who can be reached via e-mail at or at her website at suggests:
•Ask the test sponsor any questions you’d ask a client about the requirements of a live job, but: “Refrain from asking, ‘You don’t really publish crap like this, do you?’”
•Put in queries to the test reviewer explaining judgment calls you’ve made.
•Check, check, and recheck. Then check it again. An hour a page is not unreasonable.
•Use all your automated tools, including spell-check, if it’s an electronic test.

Sally Noonan at suggests:
•While taking the test, note additions to or deviations from the house style. Prepare a style sheet if the house doesn’t have one.
•Choose your mode of attack: step by step; numerous passes, correcting and commenting on certain changes with each pass; or one pass, making all corrections or comments in each sentence or paragraph before moving on to the next.

During a recent test, I read every instruction three times. I checked every mark and suggestion at least three times, proofed my comments, and later read the material from back to front for a fresh perspective. My spelling- and grammar-check actually found a few misspellings for me, too. And I must say that leaving comments on some changes added a lot to my confidence. It forced me to behave as the authority instead of the newbie. Now I approach editing tests without fear.

Before agreeing to take an editing test, check out the company, and find out whether it publishes the types of books you’d read for pleasure. Think of editing tests as just one a step in the process of hiring a new client. Don’t contact the company or agree to take an editing test when you think your freelancing career is spiraling downward or you are otherwise stressed out or lacking in confidence.