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Translating exam items in an item bankJust as test developers and publishers store and manage test items securely in item banks, as a translation agency, we also use repositories to store and manage translatable content to ensure we are able to maintain the same tone, voice and terminology from project to project for each individual customer. Imagine if an exam at one level referred to a concept in one way, and then the next exam which you translate uses a different word for the same idea – not ideal at all to have a candidate faced with changing terminology!

Item banking software can vary greatly in terms of its support for languages, with some vendors fully understanding the challenges of the different fonts required, unicode text and complex text layout for languages such as Arabic and Punjabi, to name but a couple. The same also goes for the ability to import and export items for translation, as some item banks tend to be more ‘locked down’ than others. The best of these will be able to exchange data in a number of formats.

Thankfully, we are able to support a number of different file formats as exported by content management and item banking systems. Below are a few examples of file types which we work with regularly and how the process might work for you. If your item bank works in a slightly different way or imports/exports another format and you are interested to know how to work with them in translation, then please give us a call or send us an e-mail, as the chances are we can support it – we have the technology!


QTI, or Question and Test Interoperability files are a vendor-neutral format used to exchange test or item content between systems and providers. They are built around XML files, again an open format which can be easily read by machines (and slightly less so by humans). Because they are based on plain text files, we can work directly in them and our CAT (computer assisted translation) tools can be programmed to ingest the items and return them back to you translated or localised.

We would generally return the initial translations to you in a format such as Excel, allowing you or your reviewers to make any comments in an easily editable format. Once the translations have been reviewed, approved and iterated on, and you are happy with the final result, we would then rebuild the original QTI files (and any accompanying media), before returning them to you for uploading back into your item bank.

Microsoft Excel

Perhaps one of the more familiar formats for exchanging multiple choice items, Excel works well for translation due to its use of columns to separate data. We work in Excel for many exam and assessment translations, as it is possible to manage the different versions of an item during the translation, proofreading and review process steps.

Similar to Excel, we also work with CSV files generated from client software, where columns contain either stems or distractors, with one item per row. With these files, we would generally deliver back a bilingual file with English in one column and the translation next to it (which is easier to review), and once the translation is ready to be imported back in, the original English columns then just need to be removed and the file uploaded.

Microsoft Word

Almost everyone has access to Word, both linguists and your own SME reviewers, so it is a common format in which item banks are sent to us. However, we tend not to work directly in Word files for parts of the project because of the revisions and versions required when completing a high-stakes translation project. The different versions cannot be easily shown at the same time. We do, however, ensure that the finalised translation comes back to you in the same Word document format as that which was originally sent, so the translated items can be easily re-imported back into your system.

Custom formats and plain text

Many of our clients run proprietary systems which export and import using custom formats. Our translation management systems and CAT tool software can usually be easily programmed to read the content and allows us to return the file back to you in the same format for re-uploading back into the item bank or delivery engine.

Exporting an item bank for translation - plain text file

Translating in situ

Despite the fact that we are able to work in a number of different formats, one thing to be avoided if possible is translation of the items directly inside a proprietary system. While still possible (especially for internally completed translations), the specialist tools, glossaries and translation memories used by our professional translators cannot be used within these environments, which means checking for consistency of terminology and marking up suggestions during the reviewing process is often difficult, if not impossible in a foreign system.

So, to summarise, there are a number of competing formats in use by different item bank vendors. While this can mean complexity, as some of the files are not easily readable by humans, most formats are ones which we will have seen before and for which we already have processes in place for handling. Whether you have one or one hundred files, our software and workflows allow us to keep track of translation progress, deal with the revision and review processes and ensure we are able to provide back the translation in the same format that you originally sent to us.

Please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss further; we will be happy to help!