11/12/2014 01:45 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST

Poor translation in nursing exam causing problems for students

Some nursing students in Quebec say a poor translation of the provincial licensing exam is putting them at a disadvantage.

Students must pass the Quebec Order of Nurses exam to become registered nurses. They have the option to write the test in either French or in English.

But several students say the English version does not make sense in some instances, making it much more complicated.

“I couldn't understand what they were asking me [because of] the poor language,” said nursing student Gabriela Mizrahi.

Mizrahi graduated from the nursing program at Dawson College in Montreal in the spring of 2014, and wrote the licensing exam in September.

About 3,000 students wrote the exam, with approximately 470 writing the English version.

“I really don't know if I was answering the right question because I had to sort of guess what was being asked of me,” Mizrahi told CBC’s Daybreak.

She said in one case, the English exam asked if it was appropriate for an orderly to place a 'tray' in front of a geriatric patient.

Some students assumed the word was in reference to a cafeteria tray.

The French version of the exam used the word “tablette”, which has a different connotation in French, and is an object that could be used to restrain a patient in a chair.

Another example involved a question that appeared to have a word missing.

“One of the questions they asked for example is ‘what is your most hypothesis,’” said Mizrahi.

“It really threw me off because I thought maybe there was a word missing, like what is your ‘best’ hypothesis, your most ‘feasible’ hypothesis.”

“I would be very surprised if the exam had that,” said Chantal Lemay, the clinical nurse responsible for the professional exam. “I've read the exam I think that question would be worded as ‘what is your most probable hypothesis’ or ‘what is your most important hypothesis’ in this situation.”

Long process to prepare exam

Lemay said five committees are involved in preparing test questions for The Quebec Order of Nurses, with all of the work done in French.

Once the test is ready, it goes to a professional translator.

A bilingual nurse, whose mother tongue is English, then looks at both versions to make sure they are equal.

Another English-speaking nurse looks at the English version to make sure it makes sense.

Nursing students are now circulating a petition demanding changes to the way the exam is translated.

They want to make sure people who write the exam in the future will not run into the same problems.