If you are considering becoming a writer, it is important to keep in mind that many editorial jobs—especially at magazines and newspapers—call for applicants to take edit tests or editorial tests. Edit tests are usually take-home exams that employers give to applicants after an in-person or phone interview. How applicants perform on those edit tests often determines whether they land the job.
Edit tests are predominantly writing tests, with a twist. Although every edit test is different, tailored to the publication it is from, the tests are designed to see how applicants write, rework other peoples’ copy, and, finally, generate fresh ideas. Most edit tests will ask you to edit a story that’s already written and to submit sample story ideas for the magazine.
How to Pass an Edit Test
The first edit test you take can seem difficult and demanding. As with anything else in life, it can be jarring to do something totally new and foreign. Once you’ve seen the kinds of writing tasks an edit test demands, you’ll become more familiar and prepared for them. That said, it’s best to really study the publication you’re interviewing at before you get that edit test. Read back issues. Look at what kinds of stories run in certain sections. This will be one of the best ways you can prepare for an edit test.
Prepare and Do Your Research
As with the interview, the best way to tackle an edit test is to know the magazine or publication inside and out. The place you can really shine, assuming your editing is solid, is with your story ideas. If you come up with great ideas for the magazine—ideas that show originality and showcase the fact that you understand the publication’s tone and focus—you’ll stand out.
Be Clear on What's Required
Before you start editing, be sure to read over all of the instructions provided with your edit test carefully and thoroughly. You should have clear answers for some of the questions below regarding the terms and parameters:
- Is there a certain computer program or word processor that the employer prefers you to use?
- Should you be inserting special tags or using an automatic tracker to track the changes you make?
- Is there a deadline for the edits or a specific time limit that you have to perform the test in?
- Are there style sheets or guidelines that you can familiarize yourself with?
Ideally, you want to have all your questions answered before you begin editing. Even though questions inevitably pop up as you work, it is better to save your questions and ask them all at once instead of pestering the employer with many different questions in different inquiries.
Keep Style in Mind
There are many different style guides out there. In fact, you may be considered an amateur if you don't ask what style guide the employer prefers. From the Associated Press (AP) to the Chicago Manual of Style or the Council of Biology Editors guide, using the right style for the genre of the work you are editing will signal to the employer that you can fit right into the style and tone of their publication.
If you can’t ask this question or if the client expresses no preference, pick an appropriate guide for the genre of editing you’ll be doing and justify your choice.
Be Diligent, Don't Forget to Spellcheck, and Review Your Work
You only get one chance to make a first impression. You also usually only get one chance to do an edit test for an employer. Take the opportunity seriously and perform as though it's your first day on the job.
Always use the spellchecker function on your word processor and don’t forget to do final spellcheck to reveal any errors that you may have missed in your initial editing. Check for typos, too many or deleted spaces between words, or duplicated words (such as “the the”).
If you can wait a day or two to review your work before returning the edit test to the employer, you may be better able to catch any previously unseen mistakes or typos.