Should You Consent to an Editing Test? By David H. Levin

Opinions on editing tests vary. Some would place editing in the class of professions that includes medicine, plumbing and haircutting, in which auditions simply aren’t done. Others might consider the acting profession to be a better analogy.

Philosophy aside, if you are a freelance editor, you can expect to encounter potential clients who ask that you take an editing test. Consenting carries two main risks:

1.) You might not get the job, in which case the time spent on the test may be fruitless.

2.) The potential client might surreptitiously give you actual copy to edit, intending to use your work without paying for it.

Here’s a scenario. You respond to an on-line ad calling for editors. The ad’s poster emails you an editing test consisting of several pages of text, accompanied only by vague instructions. You politely request clarification of the test’s purpose, as well as some background about the company. Their reply only partially addresses your concerns, while giving the impression that your request was an imposition.

Here’s another. You apply for a freelance editing job, which leads to an on-site interview. You spend most of this time speaking with members of the interview team. You also take a written test that involves editing a brief passage according to the companyís house-style sheet, which is prefaced by a cordial explanation of why the test is being given.

I’m guessing you’re more comfortable with the second scenario: You had to pass an initial screening before being presented with the test. Your hosts took the initiative to address likely concerns about taking it. The time you invested in the test is dwarfed by that spent by your hosts in interviewing you.

The first scenario evokes less confidence: The test was used to initially screen, which will waste a lot of applicants’ time. The company provided sketchy identification. They failed to anticipate a candidate’s concerns, or even to adequately address them once raised.

Most situations will fall between these two extremes. In questionable cases, the other party needs to persuade you that despite other documentation such as resume and work references, an editing test is required.

Ultimately, you’ll need to trust your judgment. If the other party does not make you eager to work with them, it may be best to withdraw before your investment of time becomes substantial.

David H. Levin does freelance editing, proofreading and software development. He has also written and published two books on chess and one on bridge, and is a frequent contributor to’s Freelance Forum. To learn more, visit his website at, or contact him by email at