NCE entries hit by downturn in recruitment, but pass rate increases

The NCTJ has awarded the National Certificate Examination to 74 trainee reporters who sat their exams at 11 centres in July. The pass rate was 63 per cent, up from 53 per cent in March and the highest since July 2008. This July saw the lowest entry for a number of years which, according to the chief examiner, showed the impact the recession has had on recruitment in the industry.

Despite this, the chief examiner was pleased with what was the highest pass rate for two years. “Overall, this was a very encouraging set of results, in difficult times when training resources may have come under pressure in many newspaper offices,” he said.

On Friday, 2 July a total of 117 candidates sat the exam, which focused on four areas: newspaper practice; news interview; news report; and logbook. There were 37 candidates sitting the exam for the first time, and an impressive pass rate of 71 per cent for the 80re-sits.

The papers submitted for the newspaper practice area of the exam were singled out for special praise by the examiners. In their report examiners said: “The overall standard for the newspaper practice exams was very high indeed, with some of the best papers examiners have seen in a long time.” The examiners also commented on the “very bright and capable young journalists who do their titles credit”. They were so impressed by some candidates that they described the standard as “superlative”.

The newspaper practice section was sat by 82 candidates, with 62 passing – a success rate of 75 per cent. Most candidates chose the question which focused on a police press conference for part A, the law section of the paper, showing a “sound grasp” of what can be published, and what would create legal difficulties.

Examiners were concerned, however, that candidates appeared increasingly reliant on getting a very good mark in part A to help them pass – a tactic that wasn’t always successful. It also appeared that those who had experienced real-life scenarios were better equipped to relate the part B practice questions to a newsroom situation.

A story about an elderly couple who died following an arson attack on their flat was the topic of the news interview. As it was breaking news, candidates were asked to write their copy for immediate publication on the Duddleston News website. The pass rate was 70 per cent – the highest it has been for two years – with 60 of the 85 candidates who sat the exam passing.

They were set the task of interviewing the ‘detective chief inspector’ who added vivid detail and evocative quotes about what had happened prior to the incident, and how the couple were rescued and subsequently died.

The examiners said: “The aim for candidates, as always, was to conduct a thorough interview and gather enough information to write a vigorous and well-balanced story.

“Candidates who used quotes to add pace and rhythm to their stories received extra marks.”

In the news report exam, the subject was ‘tombstoning’ – a sport that involves jumping or diving into the sea from tall structures or cliffs. The story centred on a campaign to stop tombstoners with the slogan: ‘Stay Alive – Don’t Jump or Dive’. The total pass rate for the news report exam was 66 per cent – 62 out of 93 candidates achieved success.

Although those re-sitting the exam handled the story well, the examiners were disappointed with the new candidates’ results – a 41 per cent pass rate. Examiners believed there had been a lack of preparation from candidates, who appeared to struggle with both the format and a lack of shorthand practice.

The examiners said: “It cannot be stressed strongly enough that candidates need to be able to take notes comfortably at 100 wpm and accurately record short bursts of speech at up to 120 wpm.” However, they said there were “a large proportion of good, sound stories written with news sense and flair”.

And finally, there was a perfect score in the logbook section of the exam, with all 41 candidates passing successfully – equalling the 100 per cent pass rate in July 2008. This was an increase on the 96 per cent who passed last July. The examiners felt that there was a significant improvement in the presentation of what was a “strong selection” of logbooks.

The full examiners’ report and a list of the candidates who passed the NCE are on the NCTJ website, www.nctj.com.

The next NCE for reporters will take place on Friday, 5 November. For anyone interested in sitting the exams, please complete and return the enrolment form on the NCTJ website by Friday, 1 October.