What’s up with the ELS, Stace?

Around the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to get more involved in professional organizations, plug into my professional network, get in touch with my peers. And that’s when I found BELS.

What’s BELS? From their Web site:

The Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS) was founded in 1991 to evaluate the proficiency of manuscript editors in the life sciences and to award credentials similar to those obtainable in other professions.

Why certification for editors?

  • To provide qualified manuscript editors in the life sciences a way to demonstrate their editorial proficiency.
  • To provide employers and clients of manuscript editors in the life sciences a way to identify proficient editors.
  • To establish a standard of proficiency for editing in the life sciences.

Potential employers and clients of manuscript editors usually have no objective way to assess the proficiency of editors. For their part, editors are frustrated by the difficulty of demonstrating their ability. That is why both employers and editors so often resort to personal references or ad hoc tests, not always with satisfactory results. The need for an objective test of editorial skill has long been recognized.

To meet that need, the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences developed a process for testing and evaluating proficiency in editing in the life sciences according to internationally recognized standards. The Board administers two examinations–one for certification and one for diplomate status. The examinations, written by senior life-science editors assisted by testing experts, focus on the principles and practices of scientific editing in English.

You mean I can be board certified? As a life sciences manuscript editor? No way.

So I sent in my application materials and was invited to take the credentialing examination. No sweat, right? I do this every day. I have been doing this every day for many, many years. But wait. What if I’ve been doing it wrong? (It went downhill from there.) This was a great opportunity to validate my career choice, prove to myself and others that I am an accomplished editor…unless I failed, of course. And that would open a whole other can of worms.

I finally talked myself into taking the exam, and sent in the fee. And then I took the sample test from BELS (which, by the way, contained a good representative sample of the questions that were on the actual test). I freaked. Even though I know AMA style like the back of my hand, I pulled it off the shelf and read through it again. Okay, I flipped through it. Thought about it, flipped through it a little slower. Came back a few days later and flipped through it again. Repeated the same exercise with the CSE manual. Basically, drove myself nuts for about a month or so.

The day before the test, I drove down to Indianapolis, got a good night’s sleep, and woke up early, ready to kill that test.

All my test-taking strategies came rushing back. Like riding a bike. I arrived early, but not first, and scoped out the best seat, within view of the clock. I set up my calculator and my pencils, even my huge “I Hate Physics” test-day eraser that I’ve been lugging around since college. I went to the bathroom – only to hear one woman say this was her third time taking the test. Zoinks! Didn’t need to hear that.

The test was timed – and I used every second. Don’t dwell on the tough questions, keep going and come back later. Mark the ones you’re not completely sure about to double-check if you have time. On multiple-part questions, read through all the questions first.

I wasn’t the first or the last one finished. I felt good, satisfied that I did the best I could. I drove back to Chicago, went back to work, and proceeded to worry about the test results. I know I sound neurotic, but really, how could I know how my editing skills stacked up to the industry standard?

So obviously, I didn’t need to worry. I passed, and I proudly added the letters signifying that I am a board-certified editor in the life sciences behind my name.

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3 responses to “What’s up with the ELS, Stace?

  1. Thanks so much Katharine! I’ve met some great people since I plugged into my professional network – it was definitely been worth all the (unnecessary) angst over taking the BELS exam.

  2. Beverly Stanley, ELS

    After receiving the necessary qualification to take the exam, I had the same anxiety over the test. I studied and hoped for an exam within driving distance. Finally, after more than a year of waiting, I took the BELS exam in New Jersey on November 20, 2010. The test was challenging, as it should be, and very comprehensive. When I left the exam room, I did not have a feeling of passing or failing; however, I did finish it with time to spare and a headache to boot. I was expecting to find out the results in 6 weeks. Instead, I was thrilled when a large envelope arrived less than 3 weeks later and I saw ELS after my name on the address label. I believe that studying for the exam improved my editing and passing the exam improved my confidence.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

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