New professionals share their advice, strategies for earning the RPR

The Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) is NCRA’s foundational certification, which tests the essential knowledge and skills for an entry-level reporter. Members of NCRA’s New Professionals Committee who have earned their RPR within the last few years shared why they earned this certification, their strategies for preparing for and passing the exam, and which certification is next on their list.

The value of the RPR

Depending on the state or job, a reporter may need to earn the RPR. For example, Melissa Case, RPR, was aiming for an officialship in Ohio, which required the RPR. Danielle Griffin, RPR, needed to earn it (along with a written test) to practice as a freelancer in Arizona.

Even in states that have a requirement such as a certified shorthand reporter (CSR), earning the RPR has its benefits. For example, some states will accept the RPR in lieu of the CSR. “The RPR requirements are almost identical to my state requirements. It was an easier and quicker process to go through for certification since my state accepts the RPR in order to practice as a reporter,” said Michael Hensley, RPR, a freelancer in Illinois.

Rachel Barkmue, RPR, an official in California, used the RPR to help her prepare for her state’s CSR. “I took the RPR Written Knowledge Test in conjunction with my state’s CSR written exam, so the materials were similar, and I took them both around the same time,” she said.

However, earning the RPR means more than simply fulfilling a set of requirements. Some reporters are looking for a professional or personal boost. “I knew it would open up a lot more doors for me,” said Case. Barkume earned the RPR for “more marketability and my personal goal of getting as many extra letters after my name as possible. I always want to keep striving for something new.”

Mikey McMorran, RPR, a freelancer in California, had earned most of the segments of the RPR as a student but got tripped up on the testimony leg. “Really when it comes down to it, the biggest reason I decided to go after my RPR was for my own reputation among my peers as well as my own reaffirmation that I belong in this profession,” he said. “As someone who has attended many court reporting functions over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever attended one in which the question did not come up from someone, ‘Do you have your RPR?’ Honestly, it was a little bit embarrassing to have to say every time, ‘Oh, I have all of the legs except for one.’”

Finding the right resources

Most of the members of the New Professionals Committee practiced for the RPR on their own using a variety of strategies. Several members used their school’s environment or resources to earn their certification. “I obtained my RPR as part of my schooling program. Once I finished speeds, then I set my sights on the RPR with all of my time and energy resources,” said Hensley.

“Take the RPR while in school or freshly out of school if possible. There is no replacement for that test mentality that you get daily in school. Once you’re working every day, you lose the test mode and it’s very difficult to get back in that mindset while also handling a working calendar,” said Barkume. “I was still in school/less than a year out of school when I took all my legs (I passed one at a time over three testing dates), so I still had the dictation recordings from school, etc. to help me practice at home.”

Griffin used dictation from the Magnum Steno Club — run by Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRR, a broadcast captioner in Texas — and EV360. “Between EV360 and Magnum Steno Club, the dictation I was practicing was much harder than the actual test, which worked to my advantage when test nerves kicked in,” said Griffin. She explained her strategy of practicing above the normal speed. “For some reason, testing for the RPR made me nervous. I had to make sure I was above the required speeds so that when the test started and my nerves kicked in, I had an extra bit of speed reserved to account for that.” She practiced 30 to 40 percent above her target speed. “The purpose is to envision yourself as if you were sitting in a speed competition, as a competitor, and writing as if you had expert precision,” she said. “If you take that dictation back down to 225 or a new take at 180, 200, or 225, while applying that same mentality, you will achieve your speed faster than you think.”

Several members of the committee found valuable resources through NCRA. Hensley used recordings of previous RPR Exams, saying the real thing felt “like just another day of practice instead of an actual test.” Case used the RPR Study Guide to aid her in preparation. She commented: “the Written Knowledge Test was much harder than I expected.”

While most new professionals practiced solo, a couple mentioned having a community to lean on. “In Arizona, we have an extremely supportive court reporting community. There are many veteran reporters that are able and willing to volunteer their time to help and mentor students,” said Griffin. “I was able to work with Doreen Sutton, RPR, and Kim Portik, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, to help with the RPR Prep classes.” She added: “That was also a great way to meet other students, practice together, and share suggestions.”

McMorran agrees on the value of a strong court-reporting network. “If you surround yourself with the reporters who do the bare minimum in this profession and talk about how certification is so unnecessary or how hard the test is, then it becomes so much harder to get into the right mindset to pass as opposed to being surrounded by people who can reassure you that you can do it because they did it,” he said.

Mastering online skills testing

Some of the new professionals did their RPR entirely online while others had taken legs of the Skills Test prior to the switch from brick-and-mortar testing. Overall, online testing won out as more convenient, although it took some adjustment.

“I took the RPR the last time it was offered at a brick-and-mortar site. The second time I took it, it was offered online. I have stories about the first few attempts trying to log on to take tests for the RPR. I soon found out that I was using a netbook. Once I switched to a laptop computer and not a netbook, I passed my last two tests,” said Griffin.

McMorran also had a learning curve with the technology. “When I first took the online style, I really did not do a great job of practicing with the webcam and didn’t even bother to schedule the proctored practice that we have the ability to do. Big mistake on my part,” he said. “My first attempt using the online method, I had some webcam issues that left me flustered right before the exam. I ended up not passing that attempt and knew it was on me for lack of preparation. I rescheduled another attempt at the exam for a week later so that I could properly prepare from a technology standpoint and ended up passing that following week.”

Both Griffin and McMorran found online testing to be more convenient than being at a brick-and-mortar site. “Online testing is such a great tool to be able to have at our fingertips. As a student, you are no longer having to wait twice a year to test. What a relief!” said Griffin.

McMorran said that even though he was initially intimidated about the concept of online testing, “once I actually put the time in to read everything over and prepare for the use of the webcam, not only did I find the technology side to not be intimidating at all, but it is so much easier than dragging a printer to a testing location.”

What’s the next step?

The new professionals are mixed on whether their next certification goal is the RMR or the CRR.

Griffin is leaning toward the RMR, saying: “I am excited to continue learning and also refining my writing.” Hensley agreed, adding: “I want to have a good grasp on speed so that I can next move into offering realtime.”

Realtime is a big pull. “We have to do realtime at the courthouse,” said Case for why she wants to earn the CRR.

“I’ve taken a handful of realtime job over the last year, but I don’t think there’s anything that would give me more confidence heading into each and every realtime job than seeing those initials after my name,” said McMorran.

“I want the CRR because I will receive a salary increase at my court for realtime certification, and it will make me more marketable in the future for other goals I want to achieve. I’d also like to work towards my CRC for the same reasons,” said Barkume. “Realtime is the most important part of reporting, in my opinion. It is what will save our jobs.”

THE LAST LAUGH: People say the craziest things

Where you get your information
OTIS is the Offender Tracking Information System in Michigan. This was over signing a form without reading it first.
A. I mean, I inadvertently put myself in a bad position, you know.
Q. Right, right. You won’t do that again, though. See? Big, giant lesson learned; right?
A. Yeah, we’ll see if I end up on OTIS.
Q. I don’t think you’re going to end up on OTIS. It’s funny that you know what OTIS is.
A. Well, everybody does.
Q. I know. That’s true. Everybody really does.
A. Everybody goes on there and sees “I remember him from high school, or her. Let’s see.”
Q. I know. That is true. It is true. I think it would be more important if you ended up on Ashley Madison.
A. Oh, no, no. I just think that’s hilarious.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mo.

First deposition nerves
A. And my children, both my daughter and my son, have the same kind of memory I do, different than what my husband has. You had him so scared. I mean, he was just unbelievably. I couldn’t believe it.
Q. I was trying not to scare him, really.
A. I know, but he has watched too much TV.
Q. Oh, he thought I had chains and whips in here?
A. Yeah. He was all ready. He had told me he was going to have to do some cussing and swearing. And I said, “You are not.”
Q. Well, I hope I disappointed him.
A. You did.
Q. And how about you? Have I got you scared too?
A. No. I am not that way at all. I talk to the world.
Michelle Giangualano
Seattle, Wash.

Q. I will represent to you, sir, that in the snippet that you are looking — which for record purposes is Bates-labeled 666 —
A. Yes.
Q. You’re laughing because —
A. He was laughing.
MR. BROWN: The devil.
MR. JONES: It’s late in the day, and 666 is striking somebody in the room as funny.
Therese J. Casterline, RMR, CRR
The Colony, Texas

Experience is the best teacher
A. And I was going to turn left, and a car came and I didn’t — well, I saw it, but I thought I had time, and I pulled out and she hit me from the side.
Q. Do you remember what your mom said to you?
A. To not say anything.
Q. Okay. Is she a defense attorney?
A. No.
MR. JONES: Just a wise person.
Laurel L. Hall
Chimacum, Wash.

The woman being deposed and several members of her family were at a lake for a family reunion. Together they pulled eight strangers from the water who were drowning.
Q. Other than with family and just talking about what happened, there’s nobody else that you spoke with that came and asked you questions about what happened outside of your family?
A. People I worked with that saw the news, you know, just that typical type of thing. “What happened? We saw you on the news.” That sort of thing.
Q. And the news media folks talked to you that day as well?
A. The next day they did. And then that Monday the Today Show went out to Mom and Dad — or to Dad’s at the time, Dad and Evan’s, and interviewed us.
Q. And so you were on the Today Show?
A. Well, we were bumped for Justin Bieber’s mom, but they interviewed us.
Q. And so they played your interviews on the Today Show?
A. They did not. They were going to, but Justin Bieber’s mom took precedence.
Q. Did they give you copies of the interviews?
A. No, they didn’t. And that’s okay.
Q. Well, I’d have rather watched your story.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.

Listen to the judge
A. Well, you asked me what I would do, and that’s what I would do.
MR. JOHNSON: Objection. Sidebar.
MR. GARCIA: I’m going to overrule both of those.
Q. (BY MR. JOHNSON) My question is —
MR. SMITH: You’re out of your jurisdiction.
Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas

Spelling test
THE COURT: You’re going to have a baby?
DEFENDANT: I already had him, and I already did that class.
THE COURT: Oh, you did?
DEFENDANT: (Inaudible)
THE COURT: Is that a “yes”? I don’t understand “mm-mm.”
THE COURT: And neither does the court reporter. She just — doesn’t even know how to spell that, probably. Do you know how to spell it?
DEFENDANT: Yep. M-h-m-m-m-dot-dot-dot.
THE COURT: All right. But I don’t, so you’re going to have to speak “yes’s” and “no’s” with me, okay?
DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
McKayla McHugh, RPR
Austin, Texas

Dumb phone
Q. Do you use a smartphone?
A. No. Just a normal one. I don’t know how smart it might be.
Jeannette Samoulides
Walnut Creek, Calif.

If the shoe fits
This has to do with a bank robbery, wherein the Defendant is on the stand testifying and claiming he did not rob the bank. They had video of him robbing the bank. The shoes he wore made an imprint on the counter when he jumped over to rob the teller.
Q. Did you make any attempt whatsoever to dispose of those shoes in any way?
A. No, I didn’t.
Q. Could you have disposed of those shoes?
A. Yes, I could have. I could have had my people come down and get all of my property.
Q. Why was it that you did not dispose of those shoes?
A. Because I wasn’t involved in no robbery, and them shoes wasn’t neither.
Sue Ash, RPR, RMR
Norfolk, Va.

Turning a blind eye
Q. Do you have to submit to any additional tests or anything when you go to the MVD?
A. Well, because I’m blind in one eye.
Q. So what do you have to do for that?
A. Well, I just got to make sure that I can see out of the right eye.
Mary Seal, RDR, CRR
Albuquerque, N.M.

Theft prevention
Q. How long had you owned that 1991 Honda Accord at the time of the accident?
A. For about four or five months.
Q. And were you the only driver of that Honda Accord?
A. Yes.
Q. And was that vehicle an automatic or a manual?
A. Automatic.
Q. Do you know how to drive a manual?
A. No.
Q. Nobody does anymore. It’s the best security device you can get.
Juliane Petersen
Beaverton, Ore.