The New NIC Interview

With the new NIC Interview and Performance Exam released in December 2011, comes a whole new way of preparing and approaching the Interview. While surely the changes in the Interview were designed to make it easier for the raters to evaluate the exam, it does not reflect the process interpreters go through as they apply ethical decision making to real world ethical dilemmas.  Following is a comparison of the old and new exam.

The old NIC Interview rubric was based on the process of making ethical decisions similar to the one presented by the Markkula Center For Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. That process was basically the following:

How to Make Ethical Decisions

  1. Recognize the issue or specifically the conflict with the Code of Professional Conduct. Consider the amount of harm that would be caused by refraining from action or by taking action. Recognize the choice between the good and bad alternatives.
  2. Gather Facts – identify the relevant facts and consider those who are stakeholders in the outcome.
  3. Evaluate the Options – consider the possible options or solutions as it relates to the 5 core ideas of ethics; balancing benefits and reducing harm (greatest good), protecting the rights of those involved (rights), treating participants equally or fairly (justice/fairness), leads you to be the person you want to be (virtues), and or best serves the community as a whole (common good).
  4. Take Action – make a decision and test it. Ask yourself, “How would someone I respect react to this decision?”  Recognize your responsibility and accountability.
  5. Reflect on the Outcome – how the decision affected the stakeholders involved and what can be learned from the consequences that will influence future decisions.


The previous NIC Interview Rubric had three domains:

  • ž  Conflict
  • ž  Solution
  • ž  Consequences

These domains followed the steps of making ethical decisions stated above and do and will apply to your own real-life ethical dilemmas. Becoming familiar with the domains and how to apply them to situations will benefit you greatly in your interpreting career.

Let’s review the domains:

Domain #1:

 Identification of problem or conflict:

Clearly and comprehensively describe the conflict or problem between the situation and the Code of Professional Conduct, policies, procedures, and/or laws.  Provide a substantial discussion of the perspectives of involved parties. Who is involved? What is the conflict from the perspective of each of the stakeholders, primary, secondary and tertiary?

Domain #2

 Construction of a decision or solution:

 What would you do and why?

Provide a substantial discussion of perspectives of involved parties.  Present a successful solution or solutions.

Domain #3

 Consequences of a decision or solution:

 Provide sufficient discussion of both the short-term and long-term effects that might include cultural, political, and/or sociological implications. Your solution or decision will affect the current participants and set precedent for the future.  Identify the difference between short-term and long-term consequences. Short-term consequences may include potential issues that might arise immediately. Long-term consequences could potentially occur as a result of your decision on an ongoing basis, and could possibly affect stakeholders that are not present. The short-term and long-term consequences may be different for each of the stakeholders.

What to Expect From the New Exam

According the NIC Candidate Handbook 2011, the NIC Interview and Performance Exam consists of seven video-based “vignettes”, or short problems that contain a real world problem or interpreting activity: two ethical “interview” vignettes and five interpreting “performance” vignettes.

The exam will be approximately 1 hour in length.  The test administrator will start the exam video player and camera and then the exam will continue on a pre-set flow and time schedule.  There are built-in breaks between the vignettes to allow the candidate to rest and prepare for the next problem. You will not have the ability to change the flow or timing of the test once the exam begins.

For the “interview” section, you will be given a written description of an interpreting situation, an ethical dilemma that occurs, and told how an interpreter chose to respond.  You will then be asked to evaluate the interpreter’s actions from a prescribed point of view. You will be told to criticize the interpreter’s actions or defend them, based on the tenets of the CPC. You will be give 4 minutes to formulate a response (including reading the written description) and then 3 minutes to respond on video, using ASL.  You will be given a 2 minute rest break and then you will be given the second vignette.

As stated in the Handbook, the evaluation of the interview vignettes must be based on the CPC. The candidates are required to refer to specific tenets and sections of the CPC in their response.  You will need to memorize the CPC and practice applying the tenets and sections to interpreting situations.

After the 2 “interview” vignettes, you will be given 5 “performance” vignettes. You will be presented with an interpreting situation and context (2 minutes) and then interpret the conversation (4 minutes). Between each vignette, you will receive a rest break (2 minutes).

How to Answer the Interview

The New Interview has provided you with the Solution by telling you what the interpreter decided to do and asks you to support or criticize this solution using specific tenets and sections of the CPC. By telling you to defend or criticize the decision, they are telling you if that decision was right or wrong.  In a lot of ways, this has made the interview easier for you but does not teach you to make real decisions in real world situations.  That is why it is still crucial for you to practice the decision making process stated above in your everyday interpreting practice.

For the New Interview, you will need to identify the conflict and the stakeholders before you can proceed. One way of organizing your evalution is to identify what the conflict was in the original scenario and pick the 2-3 main tenet sections that apply to it. Once you identify them, organize them in order of importance and then expand on each one by identifying the stakeholders, how they are affected by the conflict and how they will be influenced by the solution.  Use the 4 minutes allowed and scrap paper provided to write out an outline you can follow so that your answer is organized and you are not tempted to wonder away from the points you are trying to make.

Example Scenario:

An out-of-town agency contacts a private practice interpreter to interpret for a physical therapy appointment for a Deaf person. The agency sends the contract and some other forms, one of which requires the interpreter to provide the insurance company with information regarding the session. It is asking if the patient was seen by the physician, was the patient in pain and was a follow-up appointment scheduled. The interpreter feels uncomfortable answering these questions, but the insurance company is paying for the services.

The interpreter decides to decline the assignment.

Defend the interpreter’s decision using the CPC.


The tenets that apply to this decision are:

1) 1.1 – Confidentiality, sharing info on an “as-needed” basis

2) 2.5 – Professionalism, refrain from giving personal opinions

3) 3.0 – Conduct, avoid performing a dual role


1)      1.1 – The interpreter was right in declining this job because the insurance company was requiring him/her to break this ethic of confidentiality. The interpreter can share info, but it should be on an “as-needed” basis as it relates to language access.  The stakeholders involved are a) the interpreter, b) the PT office, c) the deaf patient, and c) the Agency .  By upholding this tenet of the CPC (and HIPAA laws) the interpreter is protecting the rights of the deaf patient and the PT office. The Agency and insurance company will have the opportunity to be educated on the ethics of Sign Language Interpreters and have more confidence in our profession.

2)      2.5 – By providing the information requested the interpreter would be giving a personal opinion as to the patient’s level of pain etc. This would be an opinion, since the interpreter is not trained as a medical professional… (use compare/contrast – how accepting the job would violate the tenet) …etc.

3)      3.0 – The role of the interpreter is to provide communication access and not to report on the patient. The insurance company can contact the therapist or PT office directly to get that kind of information… etc.

Becoming familiar with the process and comfortable with the format of the NIC Interview will be the key to your success in passing the exam.  Practice, practice, practice will help you feel confident and keep your thoughts and comments on track.  A good way to do this is to make videos of your evaluations and review them and then improve upon them.  Working with a trusted mentor or peer will also be helpful on your journey to become certified.


Teresa V. Ford, NIC Advanced

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Comments: 8 Comments

8 Responses to “The New NIC Interview”

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Thanks Teresa!!! This was really helpful!!! April and I will be taking the written test in a few weeks, then the performance a bit later :) . Any advice on the written????

    • admin says:

      Yes. Study the chapter reviews in “So You Want to Be An Interpreter” and brush up on anything you feel shaky on. Also, review your linguistics books from your ITP. Taking the sample test might be helpful too, giving you an idea of where to focus your efforts.

  2. Stacey says:

    Thanks, Teresa!
    It sounds as if the book: “Encounters with Reality, 1001 Interpreting Scenarios” nwill be very helpful for the performance test. It’s full of situations we might encounter every day.

  3. Malissia says:

    Wow, this is not how I have been studying. With the prior NIC you had to quote materials/experience/people not necessarily tenants. Not sure that I am up to the challenge… feel like I may have wasted the last 18 months on preparing for this test!

    • admin says:

      Your effort has not been wasted. All that work you have done in the past 18 months has given you a good foundation. Just shift your focus to the CPC and practice addressing scenarios with that in view and you will do fine. Remember, the key is to practice, practice, practice, especially making videos of your work, reviewing and improving upon it. You may find our NIC Interview Study Modules helpful.

      Teresa @ Interpreter’s Ally

  4. Rich says:

    While I do agree with the goal of raising the bar for the interpreting profession, I must say this test is far more focused on examining the “tools” an interpreter possesses than it does the actual skill of interpreting. Tools are something that all interpreters need to acquire over time and through preparation for each assignment. The NIC should provide choices for interpreting scenarios similiar to the format of the EIPA. In the real world, interpreters can decide which jobs to accept or to turn down based on our skill level and familiarity with the setting. Not only does this video not give you a choice, but it also just runs eliminating the option to ask for clarification or even to lag further behind if one so desires. No matter how much you prepare, if you recieve a vignette on thermodynamics that is over your head, you won’t be able to interpret it accurately. But if you were actually offered a job for a college course in thermodynamics, you would either have the opportunity to take ample time to prepare or turn the job down. Turning down assignments and knowing oneself is an important aspect of being a professional interpreter and is one that has been sorely overlooked in the testing process. Most likely, the prospective interpreter who has the most knowledge of the particular content on the test will be most successful in providing an accurate interpretation. This is testing ones “tools”, not ones skill. Simply offering choices would rectify this. Also, anyone should be able to take the test. The requirement of a BA degree just weeds out skilled interpreters who don’t have a BA degree. Is it the position of RID that a BA degree in Surfing Studies will make one a qualified applicant to become an interpreter? So frustrating. Pardon my vent. But thank you for doing what you can to help people prepare as much as possible.

    • admin says:

      I agree with you on many of the points you made. Any kind of test for skill level will fall short in a virtual environment where performance scenarios are prerecorded and there is no interaction with a live person. Unfortunately, the days of testing before a live panel are long past and we must work with what is both cost effective and convenient. I agree that choice is an important element, but honestly, the NIC is an entry level exam. They are not going to throw something at you that is way over your head, like thermodynamics. The situations they choose will be ones that any community interpreter would encounter on a regular basis. I also think that how we make use of our “tools” is a reflection of our skill level. A skilled craftsman is judged on not the tools he uses, but the product he produces from the use of those tools. As for the BA requirement, lets not even go there! I agree with you…

      Teresa F.

      • Ibrahim says:

        This is great. I come from a small town, so it feels like issues like these just get misesd, but I’m glad to see that it isn’t so. Everyone should know of the right to a certified interpreter and it’s great that this is getting spread around!

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