While I am not a journalism lecturer, I have been taught very well and passed the NCTJ’s news writing exam as a result. So if any of you are about to embark on an NCTJ course and want some tips to put you ahead of the game then look no further.
Manage Your Time
This wouldn’t be an exam if it wasn’t tough and the NCTJ give you a lot to get through in your two hours. But there isn’t anything that can’t be managed. There are four questions to answer and it is all made much easier if manage your time. If you can spent just enough time on each question to do a thorough job and still leave time to check your work at the end then you will be in good stead. My lecturer used to say “those who spend time reading at the end will do better than those who are writing.” This is the best advice I was ever given and just so happens to lead in nicely to point two.
Check, Check and Check Again
One spelling mistake of a name or fact given to you in the question can end your entire exam before it has even begun. Checking your work at the end of the paper can really be the difference between a pass and a fail. The NCTJ will deliberately try to trip you up with tricky names that are oddly spelt. Check them once, check them twice because if it’s wrong it’s a fail.
Stick to the Script
There will be times when the grind of practice questions and papers will become monotonous but it would be dangerous to try and take some creative license. The NCTJ like their news to be written in a certain way and, as they mark your paper, it would be wise to give them what they want. It may sound obvious but being able to write to a desired style is a very valuable skill to have.
Take Lots of Pens
Not to write your exam with but to annotate your question paper. In the questions you are given you are going to need to know the line to the story, the newsworthy pieces of info you want high up, your key quotes and all the facts that flesh out the piece. That’s a lot of stuff to remember and if they aren’t marked out in a different colour (or symbol) then it’s easy to miss something that the markers are looking for you to include.
The NCTJ don’t want you to fail and your tutors don’t want you to fail. You will have had a lot of practise in writing the news before you sit the exam and it is a very passable test if you just stay calm and tick all the boxes. Deep breaths, a relaxed mind and a calm approach will do you the world of good.
Well I hope these tips help as they certainly treated me well during the exam. Check back soon for more updates and NCTJ and Beyond.
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