NCTJ Shorthand – The Future

Tomorrow is a big day and it has nothing to do with the Pope. No, tomorrow is all about 100wpm and my first attempt at a shorthand exam (I have already sat one but didn’t submit so it doesn’t count).

However this isn’t just any shorthand exam. It’s a new version and guess what, it’s easier. The new format has just recently been rolled out and the exam on Friday is the first of its kind to be held at my training centre in Wimbledon.

The first two minutes are the same as normal, followed by the usual 30 second break. However, it’s in the second half of the exam when things take an unusual twist as there is a further 15 seconds rest between the third and fourth minute.

But the biggest change of all comes in the final minute which contains a very important quote that you are expected to get down word for word, no mistakes. But get this, that’s all you have to get down; the rest of the minute doesn’t even have to be transcribed.

Now in light of recent articles questioning the use of shorthand and its necessity in modern journalism, I can’t help thinking that the NCTJ aren’t helping themselves by making the exam decidedly easier.

Do they think this is a better test of the skill, or do they just need a boost in the pass rate? I know many of the people who have already passed on my course feel that the exam can be passed now with less effort than before. In truth I am not sure how the change benefits the future journalist. But as all I need to do is pass, you won’t hear me complaining.

Now, if only I could keep up for the first two minutes….


7 Responses to NCTJ Shorthand – The Future

  1. Alex B says:

    I was one of the (un)fortunate few to have trialled the ‘new’ version of the shorthand exams in May, and to be completely honest, I didn’t find it any easier, it’s just different.

    As you correctly state, nothing but the quote in the last minute needs to be transcribed, but I found the pressure upon the ‘do or die’ sentence to be quite a leap from the rest of the piece in which you are allowed a maximum of ten errors.

    This all said, perhaps the new exam is a closer representation of the reality of shorthand in the workplace – in many cases, getting the jist of what is being said may not be enough – if only that sufficed for the exam…

    • Matt Wiggins says:

      It’s interesting that you found that, especially as you only have to write down a maximum of 35 words in the last minute. My problem is keeping up to speed for a longer period so I will most likely fail in the first two minutes rather than the last half.

      I agree with you that it maybe more realistic for the workplace. If you get a golden quote in an interview you are going to need it down word for word rather than paraphrasing, especially if it’s a strong quote that is going to get a lot of attention. But do you think changing the exam to this format really tests the skill? If you can keep up at 100wpm for four minutes, as in the old format, then surely that will serve you better in the real world?

      What are your thoughts?

      • Alex B says:

        As you point out, the format of the new exam means you only have to write down up to 35 words completely accurately, but I found that once I was ‘in the zone’, it hard to not write down what was being dictated. Among my classmates who said they did stop dictating and waiting for the quote, most of them found they couldn’t get back into it at such short notice and failed.

        So, the million dollar question is: To what extent is the new exam better/a closer representation of what is expected of a journalist in the modern newsroom? I would argue that the ability to be able to write 4 minutes at 100wpm with 97.5% accuracy is a fundamental skill to being a quality journalist, but equally, the ability to pinpoint the ‘golden quote’ and get it down verbatim cannot be neglected either.

        I think the new exam does test this, as my experience suggests that stopping and anticipating the quote is not necessarily a good idea. What’s your plan for the ‘do or die’ final minute?

      • Matt Wiggins says:

        It is definitely food for thought Alex. My tutors are recommending sitting and waiting for the quote and in the practise papers we have done it has served me well. I think I will go with this policy tomorrow and see how it treats me.

        In regard to the million dollar question, I think you have a good point. I personally feel being able to write shorthand for longer is the desired skill that should be taken away from the course (to benefit court reporting for example). If you can write to 97.5% accuracy for a longer period you are more likely to get down the key quote anyway.

        When did you pass your shorthand, Alex? Have you used it much since?

      • Alex B says:

        I passed in June and have used it sporadically since, but get the feeling that, just like driving a car or riding a bike, it’s a skill which will always be present if a little rusty. But I’ve found that 100wpm is almost a pre-requisite for many entry level journalism jobs, so best of luck with the exam, and don’t get too downbeat if you don’t get it – it took me about five times!

  2. […] I mentioned a week or so ago the shorthand section of the NCTJ course has experienced some changes recently. But it isn’t just the teeline test that’s changing, the entire syllabus […]

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