There’s a very interesting post on test translations over here. I have my doubts about them myself, so was very interested to read this.
For the record, while I’ve not done as many test translations as Mr. Gerasimov, I have done my fair share and my experience has been pretty much in line with his, i.e. agencies inform me I am on their “freelance list” but I never hear from them again, or I get contacted with jobs well below my usual rates. Generally, I’m left wondering why I ever bothered. And then there was the agency who insisted on contacting me at 4.30pm every Friday for a period of about 6 months with a series of 5,000 – 6,000 word jobs due in for 9am the following Monday, even when I had told them that I didn’t work weekends… given I was usually working to my own COB deadlines on Fridays, I eventually decided I didn’t need the hassle and politely asked them to remove me from their database.
Nowadays, I demonstrate my abilities to potential clients in other ways, e.g. with references, extracts from prior translations (suitably sanitised), etc. and so far, all my clients have been happy with this. But overall, the advice I suggested in this post last year still stands, especially when it comes to doing test translations.
Finally, I don’t like plain old them-against-us posts, and it’s only fair to say that I can understand why agencies feel they need to ask for test translations. But there are loads of other ways to demonstrate your competence, and experience has taught me that nine-and-a-half times out of ten, test translations are a complete waste of time.