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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Court reporters prepare transcripts using their education and experience, but it can be scary when that isn’t enough. Good reporters know when research may be necessary, when a nagging thought or hunch leads them to investigate further; but when a reporter doesn’t even realize that their knowledge is lacking and therefore sees no need to look something up, bad things can happen.
Consider these examples culled from real transcripts:
Nine Next for Nynex
Youth in Asia for euthanasia
City Bank for Citibank
Half Shell for Hatch Shell
What made errors like these especially disturbing is that they occurred multiple times throughout the transcripts, thus bringing unwanted attention to the glaring error over and over again. If I were an attorney reading “Youth in Asia” when it was supposed to be “euthanasia” on almost every page, I think I’d lose my mind. I’d also want my money back.
One reporter once wrote “slacks on a fence” when clearly the attorney meant “slats on a fence.” The reporter insisted the attorney said “slacks.” No, in fact he didn’t. The case was not about pants. The reporter obviously never knew the word “slats” existed so therefore wrote “slacks” because that’s a word she was familiar with. If she had paid attention to context, would she have noticed something odd? Maybe, frighteningly, she didn’t care.
Of course we can’t be expected to know everything. I remember as a young reporter I once wrote “smoke in mirrors” on my job sheet only to have an attorney cross out the word “in” and replace it with “and.” He said it was important. Yikes. I had never heard of that phrase before, but I never made that same mistake again. And that’s the great thing about court reporting: You learn something new every day that you can use to improve your job performance going forward.
You don’t know what you don’t know. So how can this lack of awareness be overcome? Take the time to examine the pleadings and exhibits to pick up terms that will be used. Hire an experienced proofreader. Ask another reporter their opinion if something doesn’t quite fit in context. Check Google wisely. Read something every day that will increase your word knowledge. Look up acronyms. Double-check spellings. Pay attention. If you do these things, you will have a greater chance of preparing transcripts devoid of embarrassing errors and a greater chance of having a career you can be proud of.
Other articles written with students in mind, click here.
BE LIKE "MJ"
Training to become a court reporter is so grueling, it’s no surprise that feelings of despair can become overwhelming and the desire to quit can get stronger with each passing day. If you find yourself in this predicament, you have to stop and reassess. Make a deliberate effort to push the negative thoughts and feelings out of your mind and dig deep to find a renewed sense of purpose. Many have come before you, feeling as you do right now, and have found a way to succeed. You can do it too! Remember: This is a marathon, not a sprint.
I am reminded once again of the following quote by the basketball legend Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
I find these words so inspiring because he actually kept track of the shots he missed and the games he lost. Who does that? What he doesn’t mention in this quote is that he won six NBA championships, was named the NBA Finals MVP six times and its Most Valuable Player five times. He also doesn’t mention the fact that he is a two-time Gold Medal Olympian and the recipient of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has other accolades too numerous to mention, and, oh, he has a hugely successful sneaker line too. Good thing he didn’t let failure define him.
So how did MJ succeed? His next quote might give you a clue: “The minute you get away from the fundamentals – whether it’s proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”
This is so true. If you are not progressing as you should, you need to critically assess the three items mentioned above and identify in particular your weaknesses so you can form a plan to eliminate them. All three are integral to your moving ahead.
Regarding your technique, it always helps to return to the basics when you are stuck: deliberate incremental practice, emphasis on error-free writing, and readback. Maybe you need to lower your speed to gain your bearings again. Is a review of your theory in order? Are you tackling those tough phrases or just letting them pass by? I firmly believe that spending two hours working on writing an error-free, difficult one-minute take is far more valuable than spending two hours working on a five-minute take and settling for mediocrity in doing so.
Regarding work ethic, are you committed to a daily practice regimen, a minimum of two hours outside of class, even more if possible? This takes enormous self-discipline, especially on weekends and holidays. Making excuses can be a slippery slope. Don't allow yourself to skip or shorten your practice sessions. If anything, you should be doing all you can to increase your practice time.
Lastly, evaluate your mentalpreparation. Are you practicing without interruptions or distractions? Are your electronic devices turned off and put out of reach? Are you in the zone when you practice, giving it everything you've got? It takes time to develop the mental stamina needed to concentrate for the interminable five-minute testing takes.
Despite your setbacks, try to stay positive. Keep at it. Don't look too far ahead; you'll get overwhelmed. Just concentrate on gaining a couple words per minute a week, and eventually you will get there. You will drop many words and fail many tests along the way, but one day you will “be like MJ” and find sweet victory.
This month, April of 2017, marks the Golden Anniversary of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc. Court reporting has changed so much since this company opened its doors in 1967. What has been the driving force behind all the changes? Technology. If I have learned anything in my almost 40 years here, it is that reporters need to embrace the changes that technology offers in order to succeed.
It’s hard to believe, but way back in the day there were pen writers. Then manual steno machines came into being followed by electronic machines. Since the 1960s there have been many iterations of the Stenograph machine, the latest being the Luminex, the lightest and most sophisticated machine of all. We’ve gone from typing our own notes, to dictating our notes to typists, to computer-aided transcription and realtime translation. We can now offer attorneys a full complement of electronic litigation support products, such as digital exhibits, synchronized transcripts to video, PDFs, interactive word indexes, and videoconferencing. Technology has made all this possible. Going hand in hand with all these fantastic advances are the dozens of accompanying software updates. Who can keep up with it all?
I am here to tell you that you must try your best to keep up with every technological change that affects this profession. It is to your benefit to do so. Staying abreast of the technology will make your job easier. You will be able to write and produce your transcripts with greater efficiency and confidence. If you fail to keep up, you will be left behind. Reporting using the latest technology will ensure you will always be employed and in high demand, especially for the most desirable of assignments. It will enhance your value as a professional.
The very best court reporters not only keep up with the technology, they embrace it. The leaders in our profession from all around the country push the envelope by trying newly released technology. They eagerly await the latest advancements that will enhance their professional growth. They are never satisfied with the status quo. They welcome the chance to get out of their comfort zones to try something new. Their efforts make our profession stronger because they share their experiences, and the learning curve becomes less steep for the rest of us. Their efforts make our profession even more relevant and indispensable as attorneys cannot prepare and litigate their cases without the skill, services, and products that we can provide.
How can a reporter stay abreast of the constant technological changes? Thankfully, there is an organization called the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting. STAR provides its members with extensive training, educational resources, networking events, and the latest CAT technologies. STAR has an annual conference with outstanding seminars and workshops given by top court reporter professionals and the actual developers who have intimate knowledge of Case Catalyst software. This provides attendees with a unique learning opportunity.
This year Linda Fifield of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc., is STAR’s president. Linda, along with a core group of court reporters, has been a liaison between Stenograph and working court reporters since 1980. They meet directly with Stenograph’s software developers and discuss what works with the software, what improvements need to made, and what their “wish lists” are. Many of the advancements made in the court reporting industry are a direct result of this special collaboration. The profession owes them a debt of gratitude.
STAR offers learning opportunities in addition to NCRA’s annual convention. See for yourself how STAR can help you keep abreast of all the changes and trends in technology. Join STAR and attend this year’s convention in Boston at the Hyatt Regency, October 12 through 14! You won’t be disappointed.
We have come a long way in 50 years. Nothing has stood still. Nothing is as certain as change. Enthusiastically accept change and reap the rewards.
“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”- Robin Sharma
Court reporters spend a lot of money before they can even begin working. They need a reliable machine for starters plus a laptop, software licenses, service contracts, and various ancillary supplies such as business cards, exhibit stickers, batteries, and extension cords.
All these items can be replaced almost immediately should disaster strike, but there is ONE item than cannot be purchased anywhere, in a store or through a vendor. Without it you are back at square one. Aside from your skill, it is your most valuable asset as a working court reporter. What is it? Your personal dictionary.
There are horror stories out there about court reporters who have lost all their equipment through car accidents or other natural disasters and, along with it, their personal dictionaries which resided only on their laptops. This has rendered them essentially dead in the water, unable to immediately resume their daily duties and earn the income they are accustomed to. Sadly, this situation could have easily been prevented if only they had backed up their dictionaries.
The conventional wisdom is to back up your personal dictionaries as often as possible, at least once a month, more often if you are just starting out. Think of all the entries you make on just one assignment, especially if you are at the beginning of your career. All that labor needs to be preserved and protected. For even greater insurance, it would be wise to back up your dictionary in multiple ways, such as in the cloud or on a couple of thumb drives. Then you can store one of the thumb drives in a location other than your office or home, such as a relative’s house, for safekeeping. The more times you back up and the more places you can store your backups, the safer you will be.
This advice also applies to backing up your jobs. I not only back up my jobs before I even leave an assignment, but I also back up after each editing session in case my laptop ever decides not to start up again. The thought of being unable to retrieve a deposition or hearing for an attorney is frightening, so that alone is worth going the extra mile to protect my files at all costs.
Learn from those who have lost it all. Save yourself the pain and avoid any serious repercussions and damage to your reputation. Consider it a vital investment in your professional career. Stop what you are doing and back up your dictionary right now. Back up, back up often, and back up in multiple places!
THE FIVE MAJOR TYPES OF MISTAKES MADE IN TRANSCRIPTS
The following are five areas where mistakes can occur in your transcripts. A court reporter must be cognizant of every area to be successful. It is not enough to write down every word on your machine. Putting a verbatim transcript together takes careful thought and attention and at times can be very challenging. You only get one chance to get it right. Let your transcripts reflect the very best your professional self has to offer!
There is really no excuse for this type of embarrassing error. Utmost care must be taken to ensure that the correct spellings are inputted into your dictionary at the outset so that misspellings do not automatically appear in every transcript going forward. Take the time to look up spellings if you have the slightest doubt. Even if a witness spells a name or word for you, do a little research to confirm the spelling, especially medical or technical terminology.
There are so many words that can trip you up: affect/effect, accept/except, compliment/complement, to name a few. You not only need to know the differences in meaning between these words in each pairing but also how to write them differently. Beware of spell-checking software! It wouldn’t flag any of the misused words in this sentence: Ewe due knot no how two sow close.
Punctuation helps make sense of the words in a transcript. Attorneys should not have to read and reread your transcript to decipher the meaning of what was said due to poor or incorrect punctuation. When reading your transcript, they should be able to concentrate on content alone. Improper punctuation interrupts reading flow, is distracting, and, in the worst case, can change the meaning of what was intended. My favorite example: “Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma.”
Tip to improve: Reviewing the types of punctuation on a regular basis and their usage is always time well spent.
These errors will mostly appear on title pages where critical information resides: the caption, civil action number, witness name, day and date, start time, appearances, etc. It only takes one incorrect digit in a ZIP code or phone number or one incorrect letter in an e-mail address to render the information useless. Examples of factual errors in the body of a transcript include misidentifying speakers and incorrectly marking and identifying exhibits.
Tip to improve: When you start working on your transcript, work on the title page first. This will help you remember the assignment and who the participants were. Do not rush when creating this important first page. Then proofread it at least twice. You may also use a checklist to make sure you have covered all the details.
Incorrect capturing of testimony
A mumbled answer can sound like either “I think so” or “could be so.” Which is it? “September” and “December” are often hard to distinguish. I’ve run across attorneys who swallow the first word of a question; for example, did he say “did you” or “do you”? Even the little words, “a” or “the,” can be a huge problem. Do you know the difference between the two? Hint: One is an indefinite article and the other is a definite article.
Tip to improve: While on the job, you should pay attention to the story line and be alert to things that may not make sense. If you are following the testimony, you will be more apt to know when it is appropriate to interrupt and ask for clarification.
Putting together a perfect transcript takes enormous care, even for seasoned reporters. This is not the time to be lazy or complacent. Do the necessary work. Make a commitment to continually educate yourself. Enlist the help of an experienced proofreader who can catch your mistakes before the transcript goes to final print. After all, it is your name and reputation that is on the line.
I was waiting in line last Sunday ordering a bagel. The three people behind the counter were going about their duties, tending to each custom order. As more people entered the shop and joined the ever-growing line, the staff seemed unfazed, going about their business at their usual pace. Apparently they saw no need to speed things up to accommodate the sudden rush of business.
Can you imagine, in your role as a court reporter, operating at only one speed: slow? Can you envision the words coming at you in quick succession, piling up one after the other, but, no worries, you keep moseying along at a snail’s pace? Needless to say, as court reporters we have no choice but to step it up and shift into a higher gear.
Sometimes the pace at a deposition is steady, but many times it is not. Testimony can come at you in fits and starts; it can wax and wane. Getting into a rhythm can be difficult on days like these. Things may be quiet speedwise, and then all of a sudden someone objects and they’re off to the races. It is your job to adjust to whatever the speed may be: If the pace is slow, you have to stay on your toes for the inevitable and unpredictable uptick. If the speed is fast, you have to hang on until things slow down enough for you to catch your breath. The more speed you have in the bank, the more adept you will be to take on whatever comes your way.
This brings to mind an assignment I shared with a fabulous colleague, Jane Williamson, RMR, CRR, on a daily copy years ago. She would write; I would edit, sitting in the same room. I noticed that whenever things got contentious and the pace picked up, she literally dropped her head and went into high-speed mode. It scared me at first -- I thought she had fainted! -- but I noticed that she did this multiple times throughout the day. It was such a strong visual manifestation of her bearing down, going into a deeper level of concentration, and ramping up her speed. I mentioned this to her afterwards, and she was unaware that she was even doing this!
Of course you may not physically react as she does, but you do have to switch gears mentally to be able to dig deep and perform at a higher level. Your current practice routine is a good indicator of how you will fare in challenging situations like this. If you do your best to hang on even when it seems impossible, you will have a better chance of success. This is the mindset you need to be able to perform optimally. Contrast this with a more lackadaisical approach to your practice sessions, and I think the results will become obvious. A complacent mindset will generate inferior outcomes. Put another way, you will not be able to go into full-speed mode when needed if you do not train yourself to do so while in school.
Unfortunately, reporters cannot be like the one-speed-fits-all workers at the bagel shop without suffering serious consequences. When called upon, there is no option but to step it up and deliver.
What Court Reporting Students Can Learn from a Future Neurosurgeon
We placed an ad for rental of a small office in our suite that was answered by a Harvard Medical School student who needs a quiet place to study for his upcoming exam. Our space is conveniently located close to his apartment and MGH. He needs the office for three months, October through December, his examination falling on December 30th. He is already quite accomplished, having previously earned a Master of Health Science degree from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health before deciding to go to medical school with the goal of eventually becoming a neurosurgeon.
I think everyone on our staff would agree that having him study in such close proximity to us is an eye-opening and inspiring experience. We have had many enlightening conversations about his family, his past work history abroad in Tanzania and Afghanistan, his research, what led him to pursue a career in neurosurgery, and the intense competition he faces in trying to secure one of only a few coveted residency positions nationwide.
His study routine is one for the record books. His focus, dedication, and resoluteness are off the charts. He spends just about every waking moment reviewing the minutiae of every system in the body and taking practice tests, never scoring below a 90. He studies between 70 to 75 hours a week, even on weekends. In three months, that will amount to almost 1,000 hours of study! After he passes his exam, he has seven years of residency ahead of him.
During his limited breaks, he has patiently and completely answered our various medical questions, such as the difference between a punctured/collapsed lung; what a herniated incarceration is; and the various types of stages and grades of cancer. (We considered it good practice for him!) Further, as an aside, it has not gone unnoticed that he takes good care of himself. He eats no sugar, processed foods, or gluten. He gets his required rest. His stamina is impressive as is his energy level. I am sure these choices have factored into his success so far as well.
“How do you stay motivated with such a grueling road ahead of you?”
This all got me to thinking about court reporting students. I asked him the most obvious question: “How do you stay motivated with such a grueling road ahead of you?” He explained that, although his eye is always on the prize, he doesn’t look too far ahead. Looking too far ahead can be overwhelming, so he sets an aggressive agenda for each day and does not waver from accomplishing his daily goal, which is answering about 250 to 300 test questions per day. To become eligible for a neurosurgery residency, you need at least a score of 240 on the exam, a score he already knows he can attain. He wants to do better because he knows he can. He knows he is capable of learning much more, so he is pushing himself to excel. His goal is to achieve the highest score ever recorded on the exam, and we think he just might do it.
So what can we learn from him? Think about his rigorous studying philosophy and see how it can be incorporated into your personal practice regimen. Could you realistically find more practice time in your day? Do you set daily goals and do all you can to achieve them? Do you push yourself to the limit, rejecting mediocrity and aiming for excellence? Are you committed to making court reporting your life’s work and doing all you can to be the best court reporter you can be? What better time than the upcoming New Year to adopt these standards as your own.
All of us will be sad to see “our” med student leave. It has been an awesome experience getting a glimpse into his world and bearing witness to the enormous sacrifices that he is willing to make to reach his goal. He is not only an exceptional student but also one of the finest human beings we have ever met.
Congratulations, Gabriel Sneh, on your accomplishments so far and all the very best as you continue your studies.
We’ve all been there. The nerves, the shaking, the sweaty palms.
Taking a skills speed test is unlike the usual testing experience. When you take a written exam, you have the benefit of mulling over an answer and going back to the question at a later time. If an essay is required, you can take a few minutes to formulate your thoughts so you can respond in an organized manner. Although there is a time limit, you have flexibility in the way you can use that time.
When you as court reporting students are taking your skills tests, you have no such luxury. You need to be spot on at that very moment. You need to write every word, hit the right keys, and keep up the seemingly relentless pace. You have only so much time to transcribe. And as if that weren’t stressful enough, the pass rate is not 70%. It’s 95%! It’s no wonder that test anxiety is a major issue for so many in this field.
There’s a lot of advice out there on what to do to mitigate test anxiety; for instance, get plenty of rest the night before, eat a healthy breakfast, and engage in deep breathing exercises. Some believe exercise helps to calm nerves; some believe in meditation. Positive mental rehearsal is another technique used by many as a means to enhance positive results. All these suggestions have merit, and they’re worth pursuing.
Unfortunately, there is no foolproof solution to calming those test jitters. What works for one person may not work for another. Each of us has to find our own way in this regard. One thing is for sure: Anxiety comes with the territory in this profession. Even when you are out in the working world, there will be times when your anxiety is through the roof. You must find a way to deal with and overcome what can sometimes be a crippling fear.
On the other hand, I personally find that a little anxiety can actually be a good thing. It gets the adrenaline going and keeps you on your toes. The trick is to find that balance where you have just enough anxiety to propel you forward but not so much that your feelings of panic and dread sabotage you before you even get started.
For those of you who are prone to having test anxiety, the best advice I can give is to be prepared. This means putting in as much meaningful practice time as you can. Write cleanly, expand your vocabulary, build your dictionary. Read back everything, examine your errors, and correct them. Hone your concentration skills so you can eliminate distraction. Keep a positive attitude and get rid of negative thoughts. If you are stuck at a certain speed, consider that a temporary situation and resolve to keep on trying. Even though you may have failed at your last testing attempt doesn’t mean you won’t succeed in the long run. If you are practicing in an efficient and deliberate manner, even though you may think you are not making progress, you are. You’ve passed tests before. You’ve already had success! You just have to pass some more.
Test anxiety is a part of every student’s learning experience. It’s normal. It’s sad that for many of you the anxiety is heightened because you haven’t passed a test for months, because you have no other financial options, or because you can’t run away from your obligations at home. But don’t give up! The good news is that there are wonderful job opportunities waiting for you when you graduate and become certified; and once out in the working world, the anxiety you feel today will dissipate as you gain more experience.
Back in the day, long before computers became a part of a reporter’s everyday life, whenever I had a tough question, such as a spelling or a word I could not quite decipher from my notes, I would seek the help of my local library reference assistant. This aide had access to medical dictionaries, technical journals, encyclopedias, and a host of other resources that I did not. She saved the day for me on more than one occasion.
Today is a different story, especially for the Millennials, Gen Y, born roughly in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, and the Centennials, Gen Z, born roughly from the mid-1990s to 2012. Each new generation grows up with even more technology at its fingertips, specifically the Internet and social media; and with such easy access at any time of the day or night, getting instantaneous answers to one’s questions is not only desired but expected.
Court reporters have a constant need for information, and for most reporters Google is their go-to resource. With Google, you really have the world at your fingertips. It’s wonderful: so helpful, convenient, and fast! There is a danger, however, to blindly relying on what you find on Google. Doing a search and choosing the first thing that comes up may give you a false sense of security. You may think that you’ve done your research and found your answer when, in reality, the correct answer is really farther down on Page 2.
So how do you know if the answer you’ve found is the correct one? It comes down to definition and context. For example, your doctor witness says what you hear as “abduct.” You perform a simple Google search and, sure enough, it’s a word! If you fail to dig a little deeper, however, and look into the word’s meaning, you may not realize that the doctor actually said “adduct,” which has the opposite meaning of “abduct.” Huge difference!
abduct, v.t., to draw away from a position parallel to the median axis. Think of abduction, which means a taking away.
adduct, v.t., to draw toward a position near or parallel to the median axis.
Chances are the doctor will be using both terms throughout his testimony. These words are extremely difficult to distinguish auditorily under the best of circumstances. If the doctor is a fast speaker or has even the slightest accent, it will be impossible. This means that you will have to choose the right word each time, relying on definition and context to make the correct choice. Imagine the implications if you fail to choose the correct word. Imagine the fallout if you didn’t even know the other word existed! Ouch.
Abduct/adduct is just one example. The medical field is replete with similar illustrations. Consider the following:
anuresis, n., A condition of inability to urinate. Total lack of urine.
enuresis, n., bedwetting.
apophysis, n., a projecting part of a bone.
epiphysis, n., the end of a long bone,, usually wider than the long portion of the bone, either composed of cartilage or separated from the shaft by a disk of cartilage.
claustrum – the thin layer of gray matter between the white matter of the external capsule and the extreme capsule of the brain.
colostrum, n., the thin, milky fluid which is secreted by the mammary glands around the time of parturition.
The lesson here is to Google with care. Do a complete and thorough search before you decide on what to include in your transcript. Just because you find your answer quickly doesn’t mean it is the right one. If you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask someone for help!
I came upon this article by Adam Dachis. In my opinion, it describes perfectly how you should go about your practice sessions and why. He’s writing about piano practice, but this certainly applies to court reporters. The bottom line: Perfect practice makes perfect. Stop practicing until you read this. Teach yourself to practice the right way. Take Mr. Dachis’s advice to heart and let his words guide you from this point forward. Good luck and happy practicing!
How Muscle Memory Works and How It Affects Your Success
by Adam Dachis
Muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, of course, but memories stored in your brain that are much like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles. It's a form of procedural memory that can help you become very good at something through repetition, but in exactly the same way it can make you absolutely terrible at that same thing. Here's why.
If you're practicing a song on the piano over and over again, the idea is that you'll continue to improve. "Practice makes perfect" can be an accurate phrase because the more you do something, you build up that procedural memory and your brain can quickly instruct your muscles to carry it out. That muscle memory doesn't judge whether you're doing good or bad, however, and so if you practice a song poorly for hours on end you're going to be really good at making the same mistakes over and over again. This is not only bad because you've wasted your time learning to be bad or mediocre at a task and may see all this work as a failure, but because you didn't necessarily have to fail at all. When you repeat mistakes again and again, you build a muscle memory with those mistakes. That makes those mistakes even harder to overcome later. This is one reason why the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is often true.
The key to building good muscle memories is to focus on the quality of the quantity. We've often heard, probably from Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, that 10,000 hours is the magic number to make someone an expert. It's likely that this is the case when you practice well, but if you carelessly build procedural memory over and over again you can just end up being really good at repeating your mistakes. When you practice, take it slow at first. Going back to learning to play a song on the piano, don't rush to learn the entire thing. Break the song up into parts and concentrate on learning one part really well. Practice that section slowly until you've got it down, then speed it up little by little until you can play at full speed. More broadly, when you want to learn to do something well, break it into small parts and take each part slowly until you're able to do it very well. Take breaks. Be patient. The more you rush the big picture, the more likely you'll be to develop muscle memories that are difficult to reverse.
Whether or not to stay in court reporting school can pose a serious dilemma. Perhaps you are wrestling with this very decision. I know that many students, feeling the pressure of mounting debt, are tempted to jump into the working world sooner than they really should. If this is something you are considering, I would urge you, if at all possible, to stay in school and graduate from your program before you take on any assignments. The longer you stay in school and adhere to a disciplined practice regimen, the better your chances for success. Continuing your studies will be money well spent in the end.
Starting out as a working reporter is very difficult. There is a steep learning curve. Getting down every word will tax your stamina and concentration. There will be days when you will be expected to work without a break; when you will have witnesses who mumble all day; and when the testimony contains more acronyms than words. As if all these things weren’t enough, there are other on-the-job duties that you will be responsible for. It’s a lot of pressure for a young reporter. To complicate things, some of the people you will encounter may not be pleasant, as the nature of litigation is confrontational and emotions can run high. The bottom line is that the lawyers will be expecting a verbatim record, and it is your job to produce it.
If you leave school and go to work too early, you are putting the one professional thing you own at risk: your reputation. Your good name has value, and you must do all you can to protect it. Every transcript you prepare reflects on you. It would be a shame to have a tarnished reputation before you even get your career off the ground.
If you wait to finish your education, you will have more practice under your belt and more resources at your disposal to improve your skills. It is much easier to push for speed when you are already in the studying mode. If you are working, you will be busy editing your transcripts, and finding time to spend on speed-building will be more difficult. It is counterproductive to report when you are struggling to keep up and dropping too much; and when your writing is messy and full of holes, not only will you run the risk of not being able to read back when called upon, but you will be spending an excessive amount of time editing. Furthermore, and most importantly, always relying on audio rather than your skills to get the job done is a huge hindrance and not the way to advance your career. This cannot be emphasized enough.
Producing a verbatim transcript is an important responsibility. Real people, businesses, and concerns are affected. Your transcript will be examined and dissected by attorneys on all sides, their clients, and possibly experts. Do yourself a favor and don’t work until you have graduated and interned with a reputable professional. Although some states do not require certification to work, the ideal scenario would be to have a certification under your belt before you report. This will cement your professional position, boost your confidence, and make you more desirable to an employer.
The benefits of staying in school far outweigh the “benefits” of leaving early. To quote Aristotle, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”
I recently heard this phrase at a life celebration of a beloved teacher of young children. She opened a nursery school years ago where it was her mission to provide her students with roots and wings, and I thought it was a wonderful expression of her life’s work.
The same philosophy applies to all of you pursuing a career in court reporting. Think of your education as forming the foundation, or roots, for your future success. All the courses you are taking are preparing you for what lies ahead. They are the tools you will call upon every day when you are on the job writing and then editing your work.
Your primary responsibility as a reporter is to produce a timely verbatim transcript using your best judgment and experience. This skill set is constantly evolving. A good reporter will learn something new with every assignment. A good reporter, ever present and mindful, will be enriched from each experience. Over time, these experiences will become part of an ever expanding repertoire from which you can draw. The young root system that began in school, if nurtured, will mature and grow stronger. It will be the foundation upon which to build an enduring and rewarding career.
Once in the working world, good reporters have the potential to spread their wings and become great reporters. It doesn’t happen overnight -- it is a deliberate process years in the making -- but if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and trust the solid roots beneath you, the rewards in store are many.
Great reporters constantly try to “up” their game, outdo their personal bests. They have a strong work ethic which means that they meet their deadlines without fail. Because of the deference they hold for the process, every matter is treated with respect and held in confidence. They accommodate every client request to the best of their ability, paying attention to the smallest of details. They take on the most arduous of assignments, even volunteer for them. In short, they are the accomplished peers we all respect and the sought-after professionals whom lawyers can trust.
So make the most of your time in school. Take this opportunity to challenge yourself to the max. Set high expectations for yourself. Cultivate your root system! The roots you are putting in place now will allow you to spread your wings and become the very best reporter you can be.
I have been reading about the effect of social media on academic performance, and although some research shows no correlation between social media and student grades, most research shows that social media has a negative effect on student achievement.
Social media takes many forms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, and YouTube. It has certainly changed our lives in ways never imagined before. It allows us to instantaneously keep in touch with family and friends, plan our social activities, and monitor the world around us. Studies show that people visit these sites on a daily basis. Everywhere you go, you see people “plugged in,” engrossed in the content on their electronic devices, oblivious to the world around them and sometimes even their companions. I advocate keeping abreast of current events on your devices. My comments are directed more towards using social media sites for entertainment and social purposes.
Some of the estimates I’ve seen of hours spent daily on social media are astonishing. Studies have shown that students who spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in this activity have been found to have behaviors not conducive to high academic performance: uncompleted homework, higher absentee rate, lack of sleep, lower attention span, even substance abuse. All of this got me to thinking about court reporting students who are learning a skill that demands concentration, stamina, and accuracy.
With this valuable research in mind, it would be wise to honestly evaluate how much time you spend on social media and to make an effort to limit your time on these sites. Although it is fun to keep in touch with family and friends, you may not realize just how much time you are spending doing so. Even an hour spent on Facebook instead of practicing on your machine can be counterproductive. An hour a day for seven days a week of missed practice time can really add up. Avoid the temptation to veg out on social media where “just ten minutes” can turn into hours.
Good time management skills can help. Keep to a strict practice regimen. When practicing, your attention should be devoted to developing your skills, so all devices should beturned off. Don’t be distracted with alerts, emails, and text messages. If you have put in your solid practice time for the day and have more time on your hands, practice some more or engage in some other activity that will further your goal of becoming a reporter one day.
While we’re on the subject of social media, I want to provide a word of caution on consulting Facebook for answers to your questions. Some advice is good, and some advice is bad. I would encourage you instead to seek trusted advice from respected working reporters or ask NCRA for a virtual mentor.
In closing, the older court reporters working today, myself included, did not have social media distractions to contend with. I personally feel that was to our advantage. I would challenge all court reporting students to completely unplug for at least a month to devote more time to concentrated and uninterrupted practice and see what the results are at the end of the month. You might be pleasantly surprised.
I think it is safe to say that the Q&A leg is the nemesis of all court reporting students. Students learn early on that it is a long and grueling road trying to reach the 225 wpm goal required to pass the RPR. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how consistent and mindful practice will imbed the correct brain-to-finger connections essential to gaining speed and accuracy; but that aside, I thought I’d share with you three tips to help you on testing day that you may not have considered.
First of all, it may seem contrary to everything we are trained to do, but it may be a good idea to actually DROP during testing. Sometimes you just can’t hold on. If you cut your losses and immediately move on, you won’t dig yourself into a bigger hole trying to catch up, all the while writing unintelligible strokes. The errors will add up quickly. The “dropping” is easy; it’s the resumption that’s difficult to do, as it may be hard to get your rhythm back. However, if you can stay calm and execute this strategy as the words are flying by, it may work in your favor. Of course if you do this throughout the Q&A take, you are not quite there yet and it’s time to regroup and practice some more. This advice regarding dropping does not apply to your practice sessions, however. Ultimately you will not gain speed if you don’t push yourself to the max when you practice.
My second thought would be to brief on the fly. I still remember my first attempt at the CSR. The street name “Furnace Brook Parkway” came up a few times. This was long before briefs were even talked about – we wrote everything out back then – but if I’d had the benefit of this knowledge and had come up with a brief on the fly, I would have turned five strokes into one, sparing myself much anxiety and energy. Briefing on the fly may not come easily to you, but try it during your practice sessions so you become accustomed to doing it. If you can come up with a brief one or two times during a test, it might just be enough to get you a passing grade.
As an example, try the OIG brief. I use this as a suffix on my right hand and use an initial sound or letter on my left hand. So for “Furnace Brook Parkway,” a great brief would be FOIG. The trick with any brief, though, is remembering what it stands for, which is especially challenging during a testing situation. A word of caution: Sometimes you will come up with a brief for "Norwegian Cruise Line" -- NOIG, for instance -- but the dictation may also include “Norwegian Cruise Lines” or “Norwegian Cruises.” Alternatively, you could just stick to NOIG for “Norwegian,” which would be a big timesaver in itself.
My last tip would be to transcribe your take even if you think you may not have passed. You may have gotten more than you think you did! For a 95% pass rate on the RPR exam, you are allowed 57 errors on the Q&A leg at 225 wpm. It’s always useful to know what your score was, if you missed a passing grade by ten errors or 20. Unless you think you absolutely blew it, it’s worth the effort and always good practice to transcribe.
Hopefully you will have enough time to carefully proofread your take. Familiarize yourself with NCRA’s Grading Guidelines and what constitutes an error. It is also important to pay attention to the content/story line when you are proofreading because doing so may provide clues that will aid you when transcribing.
It is not uncommon to be stuck at a certain speed for a long time and for months to go by before you pass another test. Everyone hits a wall at some point and discouragement sets in. You can’t break through, though, if you don’t keep trying. “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” - Harriet Beecher Stowe
As if Q & A dictation wasn’t hard enough, with only an attorney and witness speaking, now comes multi-voice dictation which adds one or two additional speakers to worry about. At just about every deposition you will attend in the future, you will need to be able to identify at least one additional participant, so having a system in place to accurately identify speakers is vital. This is especially important when you have multiple attorneys arguing, sometimes at a quick pace and often interrupting each other. It is easy to get confused, lose your rhythm, and drop. We’ve all struggled with this. Thankfully, it is a skill that becomes easier with practice.
Some schools rely on tape for multi-voice dictation where the voices introduce themselves at the beginning. I’ve heard of lone instructors changing their voice to designate a change in speaker. Some schools have actual speakers giving live dictation in front of the classroom, which I think is ideal, as I prefer a visual frame of reference. My school back in the day used a rigged contraption with lights on it, and my teacher would switch a light on to identify which “person” was speaking.
The reason I prefer a visual aid is because that is the way my speaker identification system is set up. This system is based on physical placement. It only matters if the person speaking is on the left or the right. So if someone on the left is speaking, I will hit certain keys on the left. If someone on the right is speaking, I will hit certain keys on the right.
As an example, let’s say you have four speakers in front of your classroom situated like this:
Your dictation will be in Q&A format until the speaker on the left interrupts. When that happens, I hit SKWRAO. When the speaker on the right interrupts, I hit EURBGS. This eliminates precious seconds trying to remember a name, if he’s the plaintiff’s lawyer or the defendant’s lawyer, if he is conducting direct or cross, or any other identifier. It allows you to react immediately based on a visual cue.
When you become a reporter, one day you will be faced with multiple people seated around a conference table. Consider the seating diagram below for nine additional participants besides the questioner and the witness. The same principle applies. There is no need to commit their names to memory. You only have to assign them a “token” to keep track of them. I have put the appropriate token next to each person based on their seating placement.
*For the questioner, I will write SKWRAO when he speaks in colloquy. He is assigned that first token. If the witness speaks in colloquy, I write WEUT/WEUT.
Counsel SKWRAOT Counsel SEURBGS
Counsel SKWRAOL Counsel TEURBGS
Counsel SKWRAOP Counsel PEURBGS
Counsel SKWRAOF Counsel HEURBGS
Questioner SKWRAO Counsel EURBGS
(Reporter sits here)
If there is a person sitting at the far end of the table, opposite me, I usually hit the whole keyboard, which is also my designation for a judge.
Notice the pattern. For the people on the left, your core bank will always be SKWRAO. You will only need to add the F, P, L, or T, assigning them in order as they appear down the table. The same applies to the people on the right. Your core bank will always be EURBGS. You will only need to add the H, P, T, or S, S being the person furthest away from you. I hit my tokens twice because I am less apt to mistake it for a word.
There will be times when there will be more people than you have tokens for. At that point you will have to become creative and assign other identifiers for people, such as what they’re wearing, or come up with other tokens using the upper banks, STPH and FPLT. The scenario noted above, however, will be more than adequate for the majority of the time. This system has worked very well for me over my career. Try it and see if it works for you.
If you are practicing multi-voice dictation by means other than visual cues, it is definitely harder, in my opinion; however, this system can still work. Just mentally assign each voice a token. I think a left or right token is an easier option than writing a name, for instance.
Identifying speakers in multi-voice dictation certainly adds another layer of difficulty, especially when you are pushing for speed. The key is to not overthink it too much and hit the token the second you hear a different voice. There will be times when you hit the wrong token. Be alert during the editing process to any comments or objections that seem out of place for that particular speaker. Let context aid you in choosing who the correct speaker should be. Obviously, the faster you can write, the more time you will have in your reservoir to be able to correctly stroke a Q, an A, and any colloquy that is interspersed throughout the dictation.
As much as you may be struggling with speaker identification now, there will come a time when you will be confident in your abilities to accurately identify everyone in a room. You will actually welcome seeing many lawyers at a deposition because each lawyer represents a potential sale. One reporter from this office got called out on a last-minute assignment and ended up selling 21 copies! (Thankfully, not everyone spoke.)
So, as always, keep practicing. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” - Seneca
Does writing on your steno machine come easily to you? Are you passing tests fairly frequently and progressing ahead of schedule, well ahead of your peers? If so, you are what I would consider a “natural” writer, and you are in the minority. I know several reporters who breezed through school in as little as a year and a half. One reporter I know passed her 260 Q&A before graduation. Wow!
If you are one of the students in the majority, struggling to stay afloat day after day and fighting to stave off the feelings of self-doubt, you may find comfort in knowing that grit can sometimes be more important than raw talent.
I define “grit” as mental toughness, an intense resolve to succeed and the tenacity to focus and persevere despite the obstacles and distractions around you. There are many examples of people who accomplished great things through sheer determination. James Earl Jones overcame severe stuttering to become a famous actor; Stephen King’s first novel was rejected thirty times, but he is now a prolific author whose books have sold over 350 million copies; and Walt Disney, despite having only an eighth-grade education and almost no formal art training, built an empire where dreams really do come true.
As a court reporting student, grit is what will propel you forward, one word per minute at a time. Set your goals, put in as much quality practice as you can, and eschew excuses. Do this every single day. Remind yourself of what drew you to court reporting in the first place, and let that motivate you to dig in and press on. It will be difficult and will require every ounce of self-discipline you have, but in the long run you will succeed.
Every working court reporter still relies on grit to make it out there. Attorneys' expectations are high. There are many demands placed on them by their clients, and those demands get passed on to us. It is our job to deliver. The finest court reporters produce transcripts of the highest quality on time all the time no matter what. They offer realtime services often under less-than-ideal conditions, multiple iPads at a time, some clients receiving live feeds in remote locations. They produce daily copy of high-profile, high-stakes trials that go on for weeks. Their raw realtime is projected on large screens in packed convention halls or on television screens across the nation, such as for the recent raucous presidential debates. How much true grit does that take?
So cultivate your true grit! It is never too late. If you embrace it, it is a mindset that will take you to a higher level. Just ask the majority of court reporters who were once in your shoes. True grit got them through school, and true grit gets them through the most difficult and demanding of assignments as certified working professionals.
I thought you would enjoy this story that happened to an esteemed colleague of mine, Ralph Simpson, when he competed in his third Massachusetts Speed Contest.
As a bit of background, the Massachusetts speed contests were instituted for the first time in 1975 and ran through 1979. Ed Varallo prepared all five contests and dictated all of them. The requirement for entering was that you had to have your Certificate of Merit. The three legs were Literary at 210 wpm, Legal Opinion at 220 wpm, and Q&A at 270 wpm. Back in those days, contestants had to manually type their takes, and there was a time limit for typing each leg.
Ralph still vividly remembers the tension he felt in anticipation of the start of the contests. “I had the feeling that words were being fired at me like a machine gun and any hesitation could be fatal. It required all the concentration I could bring. Each five-minute take seemed to go on forever, and you just had to hang on.”
Ralph won the contest in 1975 with an average overall score of 99.59 and won again in 1976 with an average overall score of 98.15. Incidentally, in 1976 he was the only reporter who qualified on the Q&A; in other words, he was the only reporter to score with 95% accuracy or better on that leg. Two trophies in two years!
In his third contest in 1977, Ralph came in first on the Literary leg with a 99.52 score. He also came in first on the Legal Opinion leg with a 99.27 score. Although he came in with a fantastic score of 99.33 on the Q&A leg, with an overall test score average of 99.37, he came in second overall. The trophy went to Jonathan Young that year, another Boston great.
So what tripped Ralph up on the Q&A leg that year? He transcribed “chute” when it should have been “shoot.” He only made nine total errors on the Q&A leg, but he made this particular error six times, which cost him his third trophy. In retrospect, he said that “chute” didn’t even jump out at him as being an error during his transcription.
Being the good sport that he is, Ralph still finds it “amusing” that this happened to him, and he has taken some ribbing for his blunder over the years. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away from his great accomplishments as a speed contest champion or as a reporter of over four decades.
Ralph went on to compete in the remaining two contests, in 1978 and 1979, and had an honorable third-place showing in each. He remains a wealth of information and a sought-after resource when we need advice and wisdom, which is just about every day. Ralph has been with this firm for 46 years!
Most reporters agree that the jury charge is the easiest of the legs to pass. The reason is because it is the one take that is made up of dozens of phrases that are common to that leg and are repeated throughout the dictation. So at the outset you are at somewhat of an advantage because you can already anticipate some of the language that you will hear. Furthermore, since jury charges are basically the same format-wise, that is, a judge reading instructions to the jury, the dictation is narrower in scope which I have always found to be less intimidating.
The key to passing a jury charge is to use one-stroke briefs for the common phrases found in jury charge dictation. There are several briefs out there for “preponderance of the evidence,” for example, but choose a brief that immediately makes sense to you, one that you can adopt and remember easily. If it conflicts too much with your theory or if it causes you to hesitate when the words are flying by, that will defeat the purpose of using it!
What is also tricky about jury charge briefs is, as always, the little words. Take this sequence:
*beyond a reasonable doubt
*beyond all reasonable doubt
*beyond any reasonable doubt
*beyond every reasonable doubt
There is a one-stroke brief for each of these phrases, but you will have to commit each specific brief to memory to avoid being charged an error for writing the wrong one. You cannot afford to be tripped up during test time. They may be “little” words, but they carry the same weight as every other word on test day. Not to be overlooked is the big difference in meaning between the four phrases.
Of course the great benefit of jury charge briefs is that they can buy you valuable time. Just when you think you can’t hang on any longer, you will hear “beyond every reasonable doubt.” You can hit it in one stroke, and you’ll be back in the game. Briefs can give you breathing room, a chance to catch your breath if only for a valuable second. Briefs can really make the difference between a pass or fail.
Check out the links below. I found them after doing a Google search. Pick out the briefs that you like and practice them until you own them. If you don’t like a suggested brief on the list, don’t use it. Look for another one or create one of your own. A brief has to make sense to you for you to retain it. The third link contains common words and phrases relating to jury service which you may find helpful.
If you frequent Facebook, check out these sites: STENO BRIEFS, The Brief Exchange, Steno Briefs for court reporters, and A BRIEF a day keeps the doctor away. Fellow court reporters are more than eager to share their briefs with you.
Incorporating jury charge briefs in your practice regimen will be your ticket to a pass on your next test, but you will have to know them inside and out so you can write them correctly without thought or effort.
Between literary, jury charge, and Q&A dictation, the literary was always my favorite leg in school. I loved the challenge of tackling dense material. And since it was favored by me, I tended to do well on my literary tests.
I remember consciously making an effort to include literary practice from a book. Sometimes taking a break from dictation on tape is a welcomed change. I had a medical textbook put out by NCRA back then which included chapters on each system in the body: skeletal, nervous, respiratory, digestive, muscular, cardiovascular, etc. I would write from each chapter, concentrating on correct fingering, not on speed. If I had trouble with a certain word or group of words, I would practice them until I could write them without error. I would read my notes to see if there were any flaws or mistakes. As time went on, I could write the chapter quite comfortably. Because of this, when I was presented with nontechnical literary for testing purposes, it did not seem as difficult.
If you do not have such a book, there is plenty of material on line for you to use. Just print up a few articles and write away. Besides medical material, choose material in other subjects as well, such as chemical, engineering, or environmental. The supply is endless! If you can concentrate on one full article a month in a different subject area, think of all the new vocabulary words you will be able to add to your dictionary, not to mention the exposure you will have to the many disciplines you will most likely encounter in your court reporting career.
As an example, I found the article “Wiping Out Gut Bugs Stops Obesity” by Kerry Grens in the November 16, 2015, issue of The Scientist from a simple Google search and found this sentence: “Inhibition of this signaling impairs antibiotic-induced subcutaneous-fat browning, and it suppresses the glucose phenotype of the microbiota-depleted mice.” This is obviously a difficult passage. If it is way beyond your abilities, look for material that is less dense and more manageable. The main point is that there is great free practice material out there for whatever level you are at.
To get you started, email me at email@example.com, and I will send you some medical chapters from the NCRA textbook, now sadly out of print, for you to practice. They are not as difficult as the example above, but you will still find them challenging and very interesting.
Another hint: You can also carry the articles with you so that if you have spare time – in a doctor’s waiting room, for example, or on the commuter train – you can practice the fingering without your machine. Though not as effective, it is still a good way to forge new pathways between your brain and fingers, new pathways that will soon become part of your everyday writing arsenal.
Try including this method of practice in your routine and see if it brings you success. In any event, it is far better to test your writing abilities during your quiet study sessions than when you come face to face with an expert witness some day.
All football fans know about Tom Brady’s incredible story. He played football at the University of Michigan, became drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, and the rest is history. He has four Super Bowl rings and almost every other accolade that can be bestowed on players in the league, most notably recipient of the Super Bowl MVP award three times and the NFL MVP award two times. At 38 years old, he remains at the top of his game, still racking up impressive statistics for passing yards and touchdown passes every time he goes on the field.
To me what is most impressive about Tom Terrific is his obsession with improving his game. He could rest on his laurels and his stellar resume, but instead he is always aware of things he can improve upon and tailors a plan to do so. Toward this end he is self-critical, analytical, driven to be better. His work ethic is legendary, as is his passion for the game.
Brady is a champion, not unlike the heroes in our profession. We need look no further than this year’s winners of our national speed and realtime contests -- Julianne LaBadia and Douglas Zweizig, respectively -- or Boston’s own Ed Varallo, six-time National Speed Champion, winning the trophy in 1974, 1975, 1976, and then again in 1986, 1996, and 2006, an unfathomable accomplishment. These elite writers are the crème de la crème of our profession, our superstars, whose names will be immortalized in our very own court reporting Hall of Fame.
Just as Tom Brady labored to achieve his status on the gridiron, so did our speed champions labor to reach the pinnacle of the court reporting world. Peak performance at this level doesn’t come easily or happen overnight. Even qualifying in any leg of the contest is reason to celebrate. It is a continuous and mindful effort that involves years of practice, experimentation, failure, fine-tuning, and sacrifice. Unlike Brady, who competes against his peers, we compete against ourselves, so to speak, in working to bring down our untranslate rate, clean up our conflicts, and write ever faster.
To my mind, every working reporter and student out there who is continually striving to improve their writing skills deserves recognition as well. There is always something to work on, something to improve upon, another certification to obtain. This work ethic and dedication not only reflects well upon you but on the profession as a whole. Brady leaves it all on the field when he plays; he lets his record speak for itself. The same can be said about us. At the end of the day, our verbatim transcripts, produced by certified professionals, can stand on their own too.
With all the talk these days about finding a happy work/life balance, I began thinking about you, court reporting students, and how you must be struggling to find a study/lifebalance and how you might best achieve some semblance of harmony in your pursuit of becoming working reporters one day.
I fear that the many challenges you are facing are truly daunting, and I empathize. In an ideal world, you would be unencumbered with pressing obligations so you can practice as often as you like without distraction. The real world is another story. With only so many hours in a day, the tug from all sides can be overwhelming. So how can you make time on your machine yet have time for other things in your life?
The key is great time management skills. If you possess this trait, you are ahead of the game. If you do not, you should take deliberate steps to foster it. Lack of time management skills will hinder your progress on your machine and the deleterious effects will plague you throughout your career. Successful reporters have learned the value of managing their time well. They prioritize their work, avoid procrastination, and meet their deadlines. This is a constant.
No matter how hectic your schedule, you must carve out at least two hours of quality practice time each day. If you have children, if you work, or if you are caring for an elderly loved one, for example, it will certainly be challenging. Finishing school in a timely manner, however, rests on a commitment to a regular practice regimen. Your steady progress depends on it.
It doesn’t matter when you practice during the day as long as you find the time. Ideally, you should practice when you feel at your best. If you feel most alert in the morning, put in your two hours of uninterrupted practice before you take on your other responsibilities; or if you have a block of time available every day, devote that time to practice and nothing else. Make it a habit, a nonnegotiable part of your day. Don’t let excuses sabotage your goal. Organize your schedule so that your practice time is prioritized.
Designate a quiet place free of distraction where you can practice, an environment you can more or less control. When you sit in your chair in that space, you can get right down to business, bear down and sweat out whatever the goal is for that particular session: reviewing briefs, tackling tricky fingering phrases, or mastering a two-minute take.
Once your practice time is met, then you can concentrate on the other things in your life that need your attention, and you can do so with a clear conscience. You won’t have the stress of your practice “requirement” hanging over your head. You can put it on the back burner for the time being, knowing that you’ve put maximum effort into your full two-hour session.
If you learn to balance your study/life balance, you will reap the benefits as a reporter in finding your work/life balance. There will always be obstacles and hurdles in life, and sometimes they will make it difficult to do your job; but if you have a healthy dose of self-discipline in conjunction with a strong work ethic, you will prevail. This is why it is so important to master your theory, push for speed, read back, and correct your mistakes. The untold hours you spend honing your writing skills now as a student, and later in the working world, will mean less time editing and more time for other obligations and maybe even some fun. Imagine that!
If you keep your eye on the prize -- graduation, certification, and a full-time job -- it will keep you motivated to stick to a daily practice regimen; and if you can practice more than two hours a day, your goal may be within reach sooner. Be one hundred percent “present” during your practice sessions, and you will see better results.
The major focus of court reporting school is to write faster. As a student, this process becomes ingrained in your psyche. It is your quest. You practice for months on end, pass a test, and the seemingly never-ending cycle continues.
Why does speed matter? For one, it allows you to write comfortably. Nothing is worse on an assignment, or more exhausting mentally and physically, than struggling to get every word and playing catch-up all day. Having speed also allows you to write more cleanly, which will translate into better read-back on the job and less editing time afterwards; and when you get more experience under your belt, you will be able to provide clean realtime feeds to counsel, a skill which is becoming more in demand with each passing day. Lastly, speed matters because you will be in a better position to actually listen to the testimony that is unfolding before you and to learn what the lawsuit is about. You will produce a better transcript if you understand the reason for the lawsuit and the parties’ positions on the issues.
Having adequate speed is one thing; having a speed cushion is even better. A cushion will help you hang on during the fast spurts, endure very long-winded technical answers, and accurately record heated arguments between counsel in colloquy.
In a nutshell, having speed puts you in control. You will be able to report all day with less stress and with confidence knowing you are getting the job done. The truth is, and working reporters will tell you, that you can never write fast enough. There are some witnesses that challenge even the most experienced reporters, which is why many continue to practice long after they have graduated from school.
So it may surprise you to learn that, as crucial as speed is, it isn’t everything! What good does it do if you can write at 225 wpm but you don’t know how to punctuate or if you have inadequate word knowledge and choose the wrong word in context? Your work product is being examined by intelligent and discerning people. You wouldn’t want your reputation tarnished by errors, in black and white, for all to see.
Court reporting is part science and part art. The science is the technical aspect of writing the words on your machine. The art is using every tool at your disposal, along with your judgment and experience, to produce a transcript that accurately reflects what transpired. This is your core responsibility. A reporter must be competent in both areas, the science and the art, to be successful.
So while you are pushing for speed, remember not to overlook the other components that will make you a better reporter. All accomplished reporters I know care about every word, its spelling and usage. They think about, sometimes agonize over, punctuation. They know enough to research what they don’t know. They read newspapers and magazines to improve their word knowledge and to keep abreast of current events and the world around them. They are members of NCRA, and they attend its seminars. They are organized, have excellent time management skills, and pay attention to detail. These attributes are just as important as speed. Being proficient in both areas will make you a reporter in high demand.
Court reporting students, probably more than students in any other field, fail their tests almost weekly. As a student, you press on day after day, week after week, and beyond, only to see “FAIL” on your graded paper. You can fail because of one missed word. One. And just when you finally pass a test, the process begins anew and you will most certainly meet with failure again the very next week. The cycle can be downright demoralizing.
But take heart.
Every reporter before you has failed, repeatedly, and has come out the other side to a career they love, and you can too. As students you’re expected to fail. You’re learning. You’re not there yet. Probably no one has told you, though, that failure has value, and breakthroughs can come as a result. The key is analyzing why you are failing and doing what you can to move ahead and face your next speed hurdle with renewed enthusiasm and sense of purpose.
This is why reading back and examining your writing is so important to your progress. Read back everything. Be self-critical. Why are you failing? What mistakes are you making? Are you making the same mistakes repeatedly? Try to be as specific in your analysis as possible. There could be several reasons: the same fingering errors; unreadable notes; hesitation; dropping; problems with numbers, synonyms, punctuation; lack of concentration; poor practice habits; time constraints.
Having this information is valuable! Now that you know what is holding you back or giving you trouble, you can address those areas and form a strategy to mitigate or eliminate them. There may be several areas that need your attention, which is common. Don’t get overwhelmed or be too hard on yourself. You are a work in progress. The good news is that there are workable solutions to any issue you may have. Ask for help in overcoming your particular problem area. Reach out to your teacher or a working professional for advice, or ask NCRA for a virtual mentor. You’ll be surprised at how helpful they can be.
Court reporting school is all about the journey. Only those who have gone before you know what you are going through now. The journey will have more failures than successes for sure; but if you heed the lessons that your failures offer, and make a deliberate and steadfast effort during your daily practice sessions, you will become a better writer and PASS that certification test one day!
So the next time you see “FAIL” on your test paper, add the word “FORWARD” to remind yourself to learn from the mistakes made and forge ahead.
The following is the quote from Charles F. Kettering that inspired these comments. May it inspire you too. “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
As a student you are probably in the throes of speedbuilding, pushing hard to pass your next test. Maybe the more immediate goal of graduation seems a way down the road; and perhaps even further in the distance is the goal of attaining a certification, such as your RPR. Be that as it may, it is not too early to incorporate the goal of certification into your current mindset. It may seem a reach, unattainable at this point in your studies, but as Tony Robbins said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
Why should credentials matter to you? The first reason that comes to mind is job security. The more credentials you have, the more valuable you will be to your employer and the more attractive you will be to potential employers. NCRA’s credentials are useful benchmarks upon which others can judge your skills. From an employer’s standpoint, there is a certain level of trust and comfort knowing that the reporter on the case has the skill necessary to get the job done. For this reason there will always be a higher demand for Registered Merit Reporters, Registered Diplomate Reporters, and Certified Realtime Reporters.
Along with job security comes better income potential. Those with the higher credentials will be given the more technical assignments. This usually translates into higher page rates and requests for expedited delivery and realtime services, work that not all reporters are capable of. Reporters with the higher credentials actually enjoy the more difficult cases and thrive on the sometimes complex challenges they present. They have shown that they are not averse to pushing their abilities and keeping abreast of the latest developments in the field.
Of course there are assignments that can tax even the most seasoned professionals, but I think most would agree that having an RDR designation beside your name shields you from any claim of incompetency. What a confidence boost, knowing that you have proven your skills and knowledge through testing and have earned the endorsement of your professional organization.
But back to you, the student. The message is to resolve to earn as many credentials as you can throughout your career, beginning with the RPR. You are making a huge effort in time, money, heart, and soul. Why not strive to be a GREAT reporter as opposed to an average one? It may take years, but a commitment to your professional growth and development is one investment that will bring you job security, a comfortable income, and the respect of your colleagues and clients.
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” - Zig Zigler
NCRA CONVENTION TO BE HELD IN NYC JULY 30-AUGUST 2, 2015
I remember when I attended my first NCRA convention as a student. It was such a wonderful experience. The atmosphere was electric. Being surrounded by professional court reporters in this type of setting gave me the inspiration and motivation I needed to push even harder to pursue my dream. As students we were welcomed with open arms, and I know the same will hold true for this year’s event.
I was so grateful that NCRA developed a special program just for students, and I was excited to learn from the best in the field. I remember hanging on their every word and taking their advice to heart. The positive feelings and emotions from my first convention as a newbie remain with me to this day.
NCRA’s student program is a wonderful opportunity to meet our organization’s leaders. Put yourself out there and introduce yourself to court reporters you look up to and have read about. You will be amazed at how supportive and helpful they can be.
If you are able, make every effort to attend. Here are just five reasons:
Learn from leaders in the field. They were once students and have become masters of their craft. They have invaluable experience and insights about the profession that they are eager to share. At the seminars you will have their undivided attention, so take advantage of it! Two examples of topics that will be covered include dressing for success and overcoming testing jitters. Click on the link for a full description of the student seminar topics that will be offered.
Meet your peers from around the country. This is a great opportunity to share your trials and tribulations and your successes with your fellow students. You will make new friends and, together, get a glimpse into the profession you will someday join. Attend the social events with other students and take in as many of the NCRA-sponsored activities as you can. You will enjoy the Keynote Presentation and Installation of Officers as well as the Awards Luncheon where the winners of the speed contest and realtime contest will be announced.
Must-see technology. See the most up-do-date technology that court reporters are using on the job. Check out the new steno writers and computer-aided transcription software. Learn about wireless realtime feeds to iPads and cloud technology, routers, and modems. There are new developments all the time, and they are always showcased at the National Convention.
Visit the vendor booths. Examine the gadgets and tools reporters use to help make their jobs easier. Purchase reference materials and study aids that will help you pass your next exam. Visit the court reporting software vendors and ask the reps and reporters who actually use the software why they love it. Want to learn about video conferencing? The vendors are there to answer all of your questions.
Explore “The City That Never Sleeps”! Broaden your learning and cultural experience. Visit some of the highlights the area has to offer, such as Broadway, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Ground Zero, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Attending the NCRA convention as a student will certainly be beneficial to your progress, just as it continues to be an important learning experience for working reporters. You will never forget your first convention. May it be the springboard to your professional life.
Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DorisWongAssociates and/or visit our website at http://www.doriswong.com/studentcorner.html. Be the first student to message us via Facebook or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you the last six issues of the JCR. What great reading to get ready for the convention.
Every now and then I come across “The Court Reporter’s Creed.” I always find it so inspiring. It is a reminder of how great this profession is; how indebted we are to those who came before us; and how we are carrying forth this honorable tradition in numerous settings around the country every day: in depositions, hearings, courtrooms, classrooms, even in the United States Congress.
Few can do what we do. Even fewer reach the level of greatness of our own profession’s heroes. There are only approximately 30,000 court reporters in the workforce nationwide. I’m sure the majority of the population has no idea what a court reporter does or has even seen a Stenograph machine. In contrast, there are 1.15 million lawyers in the United States!
The importance of our role in society cannot be underestimated. Pretrial discovery relies on sworn deposition testimony. Criminal defendants rely on trial transcripts when their cases are appealed. Recording our nation’s legislative business ensures transparency and honest debate. Court reporters in all these roles are helping to uphold the rights we cherish under our Constitution. The record never forgets; the written word holds all accountable.
Kudos to all of us who are in the trenches day after day chasing down words before they are lost forever, spoken and soon forgotten. If you are a student, I hope reading “The Court Reporter’s Creed,” cited below, will energize you to reach your next speed goal and to one day join our proud ranks as a certified verbatim court reporter.
THE COURT REPORTER’S CREED
My profession stems from humanity’s desire and its necessity to preserve the happenings of yesterday and tomorrow.
My profession was born with the rise of civilization in Ancient Greece.
I was known as a scribe in Judea, Persia, and the Roman Empire.
I preserved the Ten Commandments for posterity and was with King Solomon while building the temple.
I was with the founding fathers of the United States when they drafted the Declaration of Independence. My hand labored upon the scroll that set forth the Bill of Rights.
The immortal Abraham Lincoln entrusted me to record the Emancipation Proclamation.
I was commissioned to be with Roosevelt at Yalta. I was with Eisenhower on D-Day and with MacArthur at Tokyo.
I have kept confidence reposed with me by those in high places, as well as those in lowly places.
My profession protects the truthful witness, and I am a nemesis of the perjurer. I am a party to the administration of justice under the law and the court I serve.
I discharge my duties with devotion and honor.
Perhaps I haven’t made history, but I have preserved it through the ages.
In the past I was called a scribe. Today I am the court reporter who sits in the courts of my country and in the United States Congress.
We all know there is a court reporter shortage. Many court reporters are aging, nearing retirement, and there are not enough graduates in line to replace them. To compound the situation, the number of accredited schools has diminished considerably around the country due to low graduation rates and decreased enrollment.
Needless to say, NCRA is pushing to rectify this situation through their Court Reporting, Take Note campaign, which can be found at www.crtakenote.com. NCRA is heavily promoting court reporting as a career that offers flexible hours, job security, character building, and an average starting salary of $45,000.
So when I see ads or news reports touting $100,000 salaries, I cringe. Court reporting can be a lucrative career, especially if you are a top-tier professional, but luring potential students into this vocation thinking that $100,000 salaries are the norm I think is irresponsible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for May of 2012, the top ten percent of reporters earned $90,530, the bottom ten percent earned $24,790, and the mean salary was $48,160.
If you are contemplating becoming a court reporter, it is important that you not base your decision on potential earnings alone. Before one dime is invested in your education, you should honestly evaluate how you stack up in terms of temperament, skill set, and work ethic, all qualities addressed in a previous blog. With that in mind, there are other things to consider: How much time will you realistically have to devote to your studies? Do you work full time? Do you have challenges in your personal life, such as child/elder care or your own health issues? All these factors could prove distracting and could potentially delay or even derail your goal of graduating in a timely fashion.
Yes, $100,000 salaries are certainly attainable, but the reporters earning those incomes by and large have NCRA’s RMR, RDR, and CRR certifications. These designations have been earned over the course of their careers, not upon graduation.
Have you had a chance to play NCRA’s online game called “Courting Disaster”? It is a fun way to learn about the profession. There are six modules. The stated purpose of the game is to test your client relations savvy and your ability to execute the core job competencies. It is an interactive game in that you are presented with different scenarios and you have to choose an appropriate response in your role as a professional court reporter. As in real life, many of the situations that are presented cover ethical grey areas; therefore, the game is challenging and thought provoking.
I would highly recommend that students play the game. At this stage you may not have the experience to draw from to help you choose the correct answers, but it doesn’t matter! It is a game. Better to make your mistakes now than out in the field. Competency onyour steno machine is only part of the job. It takes so much more to be considered a true professional.
At the end of each module you are given a score along with an explanation of why your responses are correct or incorrect. What is especially helpful is that applicable provisions are cited from NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics, a code that every reporter should be familiar with. Members of the profession are bound by this code in their dealings with their fellow reporters, members of the legal community, and the general public.
Take advantage of this opportunity to test the waters, so to speak, and get a glimpse of the different dilemmas that you will encounter as a working reporter. Take the time to ponder the matters presented to you. The experience will give you added confidence when faced with thorny or sensitive matters. The beauty of the game is that, pass or fail, it is a valuable and unique learning experience.
To access the game, go to www.ncra.org/courtingdisaster. Good luck and have fun. You may surprise yourself and earn a trophy for being a superstar reporter!
HELPFUL TIPS FOR COURT REPORTING STUDENTS TO ENSURE SUCCESS
It is disheartening to read student comments on different forums about getting stuck at a speed, their frustration at their inability to move forward, but it is wonderful that we live in an age where students can reach out to a wide supportive audience of mentors who have gone through the same struggles and can offer advice and encouragement through the internet. If you are a student who checks these various sites for information of this type, you have probably noticed that not all the advice given will resonate with you. I suggest that you weed through the comments and see if a suggestion hits home with you, something that will spur you on and inspire you to move ahead. It may be a technique you have overlooked, not tried, been unaware of. It may be something as simple as practicing in a different location to try to break out of a mental rut (worked for me). Try to wade through the noise and glean a helpful, concrete nugget or two rather than the simple “press on,” “keep trying,” “don’t give up” advice.
Maybe my tips below will resonate with you:
If you are a beginner, my advice has been and will always be to OWN your theory. When you go through your daily lessons, write your new words over and over again until you become comfortable with the fingering. Try writing as cleanly as you can. Write the words a little faster each time without hesitation. Memorize your briefs. Most importantly, make it a habit to REVIEW the material you have already learned. Your brain and fingers need the constant reinforcement. Lastly, always read your notes and analyze your errors. Are you dragging a certain finger? Are there always shadows in a certain fingering combination? Are you constantly writing the same word incorrectly? Failure to analyze your errors is a missed opportunity to improve;and when you can identify and correct your errors on the spot, that is when your practice ismosteffective. I recommend at least two solid hours of QUALITY practice a day, more if possible. Your efforts in the early stages will pay great dividends when you push for speed later on. You may not realize it, but the way you are practicing now will determine your success, or lack thereof, in the months ahead.
If you are already in speed classes and are not moving ahead, I would recommend dropping your practice speed to where you can write cleanly and build from there. It will not help you to write messily, with a high untranslate rate, at speeds above your ability day after day. You are doing more harm than good because your fingers and brain are not making any meaningful writing connections. It will be time well spent to slow down and regroup. What I found helpful when I found my fingers thrashing about the keyboard was to write text from a newspaper or magazine. Just concentrate on writing cleanly what appears on the page before you, punctuation included. This exercise allows you to concentrate on correct writing form at your own pace in relative quiet. Aim for perfection. Write the chosen text as many times as it takes until it is error free. This is also a great opportunity to add words to your dictionary. In the end, if you make a commitment to review your past lessons, push yourself to write clean takes, read back everything, and make adjustments where needed, you will eventually see improvement.
COURT REPORTING AS A CAREER CHOICE The National Court Reporters Association has launched its newest initiative called “Court Reporting: Take Note,” details of which can be found at www.crtakenote.com. It is designed to promote the profession to those who may be unaware of court reporting as a career choice. Court reporting is an attractive career for so many reasons. It offers a decent starting salary, flexibility, innumerable learning opportunities, and room to grow professionally. Best of all, it is estimated that 5,500 openings will be available in the next five years; and as those in the profession know, there is always a need for certified reporters.
Is court reporting a good career choice for you? Here are some traits that successful court reporters possess:
A love of language and learning. Only reporters would have fun at all-day seminars learning and debating about grammar and punctuation! We enjoy language, vocabulary building, and word games. Court reporters have a front seat to all kinds of disputes, so every day can be a learning experience. If you listen and pay attention, it amounts to a free education. You will be exposed to medical issues, technical matters, and human nature in general. This profession satisfies the curious mind.
Self-discipline. This trait is an absolute necessity for success in this field. From the get-go, one must make the commitment to practice daily to master theory and then gain speed even when it becomes a tedious grind. Then when you are reporting, you must stay focused and work when there may be many distractions in your life, and you will have to edit your transcripts and meet your deadlines when you would rather be shopping or going out on the town.
Attention to detail/organizational skills. Every assignment has its own players, stipulations, and idiosyncrasies. It is up to you as the reporter to keep every detail straight on each case, which may not be easy, especially if you are working on a half dozen cases at a time. You should not rely on memory alone. Meticulous notes and exceptional organizational skills will keep everything on track and running smoothly.
Willingness to embrace change. The court reporting field has undergone major changes throughout its history, mostly in the area of technology. Today the gold standard is providing a wireless, instantaneous voice-to-text realtime feed. Reporters who embrace the technological changes and are committed to staying abreast of the latest advances are in high demand and are well compensated for their exceptional skill. They will have job security for as long as they choose to work; however, those who do not embrace and utilize all that technology has to offer will be left behind.
Commitment to professional development. To stay relevant in today’s market, a reporter needs to continue to improve his/her skills, attain additional certifications, and attend conferences to learn from the profession’s leaders. Learning takes many forms, so there are many ways to keep abreast of current events and broaden your horizons. The more informed you are, the more word knowledge you have, the better prepared you will be to produce a quality transcript.
As an aside, reporters who have experience playing musical instruments tend to do well in this field. Familiarity with a practice regimen, finger strength and dexterity, and eye/hand/ear coordination may be some reasons. (There is no scientific study that verifies this, but the link is well documented and is borne out by many within our ranks.)
In closing, court reporting is a demanding and challenging career, but it is also rewarding and personally fulfilling. If you are considering becoming a court reporter, I would encourage you to examine the traits mentioned above to see if you are suited for this profession in temperament, skill set, and work ethic. Because of the unique demands of a court reporting program, if you do not see a correlation, this may not be the profession for you. But if you do see these qualities in yourself, chase the dream. The profession needs you!
Since you will be spending lots of time in a chair practicing, and later reporting, it is a good idea to consider the benefits of maintaining good posture when sitting. This was mentioned when I began court reporting school in my twenties, and I don’t remember paying it much heed; but, trust me, the decades pass quickly, so the more you can do to protect your back, the better off you will be in your later years. Don’t take your back for granted! You cannot report without it.
My yoga teacher always said, “If you do ONE thing per day, work on your back.” What great advice. Since court reporters lug around pounds of equipment daily, sometimes up and down stairs or in and out of car trunks, and then sit in the same chair for hours on end, often under conditions beyond their control, it is no wonder many experience back pain and discomfort; but being aware of your back and posture is an important first step in preventing future problems and mitigating existing ones.
There is a lot of information on the internet about sitting correctly in a chair, but the basic advice is to place your feet flat on the floor, bend your knees at a right angle, and keep your back straight with your buttocks touching the back of the chair. As court reporters, we usually sit in armless chairs with the machine between our legs with our elbows, arms and wrists parallel to the keyboard. Always try to maintain a neutral position to lessen any strain on your muscles and joints; e.g., avoid sitting with your torso twisted and your machine to one side. Keep your body aligned. Whenever you have an opportunity, such as during a break, you should stand and move around, stretch, roll your shoulders, flex and extend your wrists. Court reporting is a sedentary profession, so it makes good sense to move around as much as possible on and off the job, especially since inactivity can make us susceptible to other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Maintaining a good sitting posture is especially important because it helps you breathe properly so more oxygen gets to your brain and muscles. This is key, as court reporter training is all about concentration and fine-motor-skill development. Postural stress will inhibit your ability to take in the amount of oxygen you need to perform optimally and will also contribute to muscle fatigue. During our intense practice sessions and right before taking our tests, we are often reminded to take a deep breath and breathe for this very reason. Unfortunately, when we are under great pressure, we sometimes tend to slouch, tense up, and hold our breath.
Get in the habit of self-checking your sitting posture. Not only will it help with your endurance and stamina on those long days, but it will project an image of confidence and competence. An attorney once complimented me on my sitting posture, which I found to be very surprising and affirming.
I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I did practice diligently almost every day, amounting to hundreds of hours, during my two years in court reporting school, so I think I can offer some perspective on this topic. I am not a “natural” writer. I had to fight for every word. Really fight! But in the end I think I did a pretty good job, considering that I managed to pass the RPR and a test at 240 wpm, albeit an easy one, before graduation.
When I first contemplated going to court reporting school, one reporter in particular advised me to practice two hours a day, every day. No excuses. Period. This was how she succeeded. She was a stand-out student and breezed through school. Well, being a classic Type A personality, I made the commitment to practice four hours a day, even on weekends. This is not even counting classroom time.
I would warm up for about an hour on brief forms. Every day I would start at the beginning of the book and write every brief form in that particular lesson. If I wrote it incorrectly, I would write it over and over again until my notes were perfect. I would sometimes practice numbers during my warm-up sessions for a little variety. This daily exercise embedded the material in my memory and thus laid the strong foundation for what was to follow: speedbuilding. I passed my 60, 80, 100, and 120 tests in very quick succession. I was on my way!
As the speeds got higher, so did the challenges. It was not easy! My family shared my trials and tribulations, especially my sister with whom I shared a room. You should see her impression of me pounding away on the keys at all hours. It was quite a journey indeed, but I could feel myself making progress, a word per minute at a time!
I am a firm believer in incremental practice. I would break a five-minute take into five one-minute segments, and I would practice the first minute until my notes were just about copperplate. If I had to break up that one minute into smaller segments, that’s what I would do. I would write and rewrite the words or phrases that would trip me up. Only when I mastered the first minute of that take would I move on to the second minute. Talk about slow going!
I would repeat this process for each minute in the five-minute take. When I felt I had just about mastered each individual minute, I would try writing error free for the full five minutes. That was a true endurance test. I would not practice at speeds too high over my head. I felt that was counterproductive. That approach works for some people, but it didn’t for me.
When I went to school, we had paper notes. I read my notes after each take so that I could see what my errors were. Seeing your errors in black and white is not only humbling but very instructive. You can see that you drag your ring finger or you make the same misstroke over and over again. Learn from your mistakes and make them a nonissue because, believe me, there will always be other issues that will need your attention!
It is not how long your practice session is but how effective your practice session is that counts. You can sit for hours, days, and weeks writing on a machine, going through the motions, hoping to make progress through osmosis, but unless your practice sessions are deliberate, disciplined, and consistent, you will not progress as quickly as might otherwise be possible. Don’t waste your time with mindless practice! Set realistic goals for yourself and don’t get discouraged. Continue to practice correctly, and you will make progress. It took me many, many months to finally pass my 160, but after I passed it, then I passed my 180 fairly shortly thereafter. My 225 was another roadblock, and a big one, but that one came in due time as well.
I am not a full-time working reporter these days, as I now focus my attention on office management matters. It has been about 15 years since I last reported on a full-time basis. I am called out occasionally these days, sometimes on a last-minute emergency, and it does give me great angst and feelings of trepidation, but I really believe that all the hours I put in the bank, so to speak, still serve me well after long absences from daily reporting.
I always say that graduating from court reporting school was the hardest challenge I’ve had to face. Earning that two-year degree was harder than earning my bachelor’s. But it paid off in the end and has provided me with a comfortable life, a front seat to litigants’ stores, a unique and ongoing education, and a deep pride in knowing that I am the only one in the room who can do what I do!
“I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF AND I’LL BLOW YOUR HOUSE IN.”
We all know the story of the Three Little Pigs. The two pigs who built their houses out of straw and sticks saw them get blown down by the big bad wolf, but the third pig that built his house out of bricks was successful in keeping his house intact. The wolf could not blow the sturdy brick house down.
The same is true of court reporting. If you start at the beginning of your studies with a commitment to practice daily with deliberate focus, you will have a solid foundation that will serve as the cornerstone for all the successes and milestones that lie ahead. If, on the other hand, your early efforts are weak or sporadic, your progress will be either delayed or nonexistent, and your “house” will surely fall.
Your journey will be divided into two parts: theory and speedbuilding. Learning your theory comes first, then speedbuilding. Your success in building your speed depends on how well you learn your theory. The National Court Reporters Association certifies reporters at 225 wpm. It is a long road; commit now to master your theory inside and out so you can reach this goal!
Theory involves learning the keyboard, which is comprised of letters and a number bar. Unlike a typewriter, where only one key at a time can be depressed, on the steno machine multiple keys can be hit at the same time. Single keys or multiple keys in different combinations can stand for words, sounds, or phrases. Theory determines which key combinations signify the “shun” ending, for example, or long or short vowel sounds. If you master your theory, you will have the footing necessary to move ahead.
Why is it crucial to master your theory? It is simple: You will not be able to build speed if you hesitate when writing. Your writing must become automatic. When you hear a word, you must be able to immediately strike the correct key or keys to record it. Hesitation will cause you to “drop” words and fall behind. As you strive to increase your speed in the months ahead, if you have trouble recalling your theory or have difficulty implementing it, you will be in the unenviable position of writing poorly and constantly playing catch-up, a losing combination.
If you are to invest the energy, time and money to pursue a career as a court reporter, it is imperative that, from the outset, you learn and review your theory on a daily basis. As you progress from lesson to lesson, make review of your previous lessons part of your routine practice regimen. Strive to write cleanly all the time. Look at your notes or screen for fingering errors and work to correct them immediately. You are embedding words and their respective strokes in your memory bank. Build a strong foundation that will be the base upon which you can build your victories. Good luck!
Welcome to the first installment of the “Student Corner”! My name is Connie Psaros, Vice President of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc., and I will be responsible for the content appearing here.
To kick off this new segment, I thought it would be fitting and timely to introduce you to a book that has just been released called “Court Reporter Survival Guide: School Success Stories.” This is a compendium of stories from freelancers, officials, CART captioners, and current students. I am sure you will find a story or two that will inspire you to push on in your efforts to build your speed. Learn from those who have come before you. Listen to their advice. Apply the techniques that resonate with you to your daily practice routine. There are many methods and techniques that reporters use to build their speed, but I would suggest that there really is no shortcut. Deliberate and consistent practice a good reporter makes.
This book may be purchased online at NCRA.org/store or by calling 800-272-NCRA. The item number is P-333. The cost for members is $16.95; $18.65 for nonmembers.
The first student to contact this office will receive the book for free!