Preparing for Certification … No More

Here I am making a fool of myself in public. Two weeks ago, I announced that I would study for the Editors Canada copy-editing exam coming up in November 2015 and blog about what I’m learning. Today, I’m announcing that I’m not taking the exam.

The idea is just too stressful. And it’s only August.

Kingston Sheepdog Trials. For me, studying for certification is like herding sheep.

For me, studying for certification is like herding sheep. Photo: Kingston Sheepdog Trials

I’ve decided instead to complete the Certificate in Publishing at Ryerson University. I’ve already taken 6.5 courses, and I only need 1.5 more to get the certificate.

I’ve heard it said at Editors Canada that EAC certification is proof of excellence, whereas completion of a university program is not. It’s true that some people barely pass university courses and still get to claim the credential. But if you get straight A’s, doesn’t that mean something?

Last week I aired my uncertainty on a Facebook group called Editors’ Association of Earth. People were generous in their responses, and their views were mixed. Anne Louise Mahoney and Stan J. Backs, both Certified Professional Editors, said that studying for the exams was the best professional development they had ever done. Plus they now feel justified in charging premium rates.

Editors who have not gone the certification route affirmed the value of experience combined with ongoing professional development. A common refrain was “certification is not for everyone.”

Janet MacMillan, a member of Editors Canada and a (provisional) Advanced Professional Member of the UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders, commented:

There’s no shame in not seeking certification. It simply isn’t for everyone, not even a fraction of everyone. There are many ways to undertake continuing professional development, and studying for certification and taking the exams is only one of them. There are a not insignificant number of the best and most experienced editors in Canada for whom certification holds no interest. Of course, certification will be right for a few (some, nowhere nearly all), and those people should go for it.

Advanced membership in SfEP is a professional qualification that is granted on the basis of training and continuing professional development, completion of a mentoring program, experience as a copy editor or proofreader, and references from clients or employers. This qualification recognizes that editors acquire their skills in a variety of ways.

Editors Canada certification, by contrast, is based on achieving at least 80 percent on a three-hour exam written on paper in a classroom. To become fully certified, editors must pass four exams: structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Rosemary Shipton, one of the best editors of trade and scholarly books in Canada, acknowledged the value of both Editors Canada certification and university publishing programs. “One of the best things about having a good grade in a Ryerson editing course or a certification certificate is that you know you are working to a high standard. You’ve been endorsed by professionals in the field – and you can’t expect that kind of feedback from many clients.”

I was immensely relieved to hear, from an award-winning editor like Rosemary, that good grades at Ryerson do mean something. I think this balanced perspective needs to be given voice within Editors Canada.

We all learn in different ways. Some people thrive under pressure. Their mental acuity is sharpened by signing up for an Editors Canada exam. It motivates them to study and guides their professional development.

That’s not me. I learn best when I can take my time exploring many avenues. I learn by reading, writing, talking with colleagues, attending seminars, going to conferences, participating in Kingston “twig” meetings, taking online courses, teaching an editing course at Queen’s, and marking for Queen’s writing courses.

If I took the exams, it would largely be to prove myself – to get external recognition that I am in fact a professional editor. Anyone can claim to be an editor, and the exams distinguish the professionals from the self-proclaimed.

Much of my life has been spent proving myself. I was the classic perfectionist, the overachiever. I’m not that person anymore. At some point – why not today? – I have to accept that the education and skills that I have are good enough. It’s not that I will stop learning – that would be like stopping a freight train. It’s just that I want to keep learning because that’s integral to who I am, not because I crave proof of excellence. And for me, it was a childish craving.

I had a yoga instructor who would say in a melodious voice, “There is nothing that you must do. There is no place that you must be. Just breathe.”

I feel that relinquishing this course of study has released my breath. I am a writer and an editor, a mother and a musician, and I need to take a deep breath.


3 thoughts on “Preparing for Certification … No More

  1. Oh Ellie, I love this piece. You are doing the right thing for you, and that’s fantastic. I’m a constant learner, and I hope to never stop, but I don’t feel quite the same need to prove myself any more. It’s a wonderful place to be. I hope you enjoy your courses!


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