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!