How to pass a copy editor test depends largely on what type of copy it is you will be editing. There are different word usage guidelines for different types of copy, and in order to pass any copy editor test, you will have to be familiar with at least one of them.
- MLA: MLA is an acronym for Modern Language Association. If you will be editing any type of creative writing, any research papers and reports related to the humanities, as well as just about any high school or college papers, you must know MLA. MLA is a system of formatting and word usage, as well as of attribution. There are many books and websites available to help you study MLA. MLA is often the easiest to learn because everyone used some form of it in high school. MLA requires the use of citation of sources inside the text rather than limiting them to a references page. The extensive reference citation is largely due to the need to prevent plagiarism and to avoid the question as to whether any plagiarism has taken place.
- AP: AP is an acronym for Associated Press, and the standard style used for newspapers in the United States. Any copywriter hired to edit newspaper copy will have to be very well acquainted with AP style. AP style dictates special word usage that is designed so that the text will say as much as possible in as little space as possible. There are also several sets of abbreviations that are standard with AP style that must be memorized in order to pass a newspaper copy editor test. The abbreviations are generally not the standard ones used in other situations, such as state abbreviations that are not the same ones used for postal abbreviations.
- APA: APA is an acronym for the American Psychological Association style that is used for behavioral science writings and is sometimes used in the social sciences and in other research writings. It is a style of specific punctuation usage, the use of formulas within a document and for referencing studies both within the text and on a special references page.
These three styles are the ones most commonly used in standard copy, though there may be others that are used, such as Chicago style, that are less common. Based on what type of copy it is that you will be editing, it is important to study the correct style before attempting a copy editor test.
The copy editing test given will have material and parameters set by the employer, as there is no one standard test. Employers generally will have some blocks of text to edit and the test will be checked to make sure that you caught all of them. If you are not sure which writing style is wanted, ask! If you edit the commas per MLA standards, and it is being graded by AP standards, your answer is wrong and it will count against you. Copy editing tests can be timed or not, but getting the test done quickly, even when not timed, will likely be a point in your favor.