Shorthand marker’s blog: how to expect the unexpected

Back in the summer I wrote about how one unexpected word can throw a student into a state of panic. It is clear from recent exams that this is still one of the major reasons for failure at all speeds. In a piece about a van driver being kidnapped the phrase ‘hazard lights’ made many candidates stumble.

My advice to tutors in last June’s blog was to expose students to a wide range of vocabulary. Reading passages from magazines and newspapers was always a good way of achieving this. Now the internet has provided an interesting alternative. If you haven’t already discovered it ‘musicalteeline’ offers a novel way of practising Teeline (and learning the lyrics to some classic pop tunes at the same time).

This is a great way of adding interest to a teaching session and an idea that students can take away and use in their own time. One small word of caution – contractions such as ‘it’s’ and ‘can’t’ are never used in NCTJ exam pieces. Pop songs are full of ‘don’t’ and ‘you’re’ and many more, so students can easily throw away marks by failing to transcribe the individual words in a phrase.

In recent exams there were a few candidates who used contractions in their transcriptions and a large number who failed to use punctuation. Either of these things can push the candidate over the three per cent error boundary. Why throw away marks when they can be so easily saved?

In a recent exam one candidate’s handwriting was worse than the script on a typical doctor’s prescription. No, that is unfair to GPs. In places, words just became straight lines with a slight kink to suggest a vowel. The line went higher for a letter T and lower for a G or a P. I was beginning to know how archaeologists felt when they struggled to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls. When I checked the Teeline – it was readable and accurate!  The candidate was clearly up to speed, but was in danger of not being able to convince me of that fact. If your handwriting is poor, and that is becoming more and more common in this computer age, then transcribe on a keyboard or risk failure even though you note-taking is up to scratch.

If you do use a keyboard, however, make sure you read your transcription back carefully. In the exam piece involving the kidnapping of a driver, the word VAN was typed as CAN. Even though C and V are next to each other on the keyboard it still constituted an error. Students also need to be aware of the possibility that a spell-checker might change an unrecognised word into something completely different. The student who referred to a ‘tax rabbit’ rather than a ‘tax rebate’ may have been a victim, or perhaps not!

Just a reminder to tutors that the shorthand seminar in London is only two months away. On the agenda is the introduction of recorded shorthand exam scripts. Delegates will also be able to discuss the changes to the Diploma in Journalism and how this might impact on shorthand studies.