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Surviving court reporting school: The last 24

By Roanna L. Ossege

6:30 a.m. I awaken to the familiar sound of my nerve-crushing alarm clock. I bought this particular clock because it shrieks in just such a way as to ensure that I will not oversleep and miss any speed tests. That is, after all, one of the worst nightmares I face as a court reporting student.

7:00 a.m. I am in the all-important phase of determining the quality of my sleep and thus my ability to write. If I did the “zombie” sleep routine, that warrants a Grande at Starbucks. I am sure that I only enjoyed an hour of REM and spent the rest of my night writing in my head to a pounding Metallica tune. On this particular morning, I decide that a Grande is in order. If I’m lucky, I will hit that sweet spot of being amped, but not too much, and have just the right amount of frenetic energy to get that last 225. If I am wrong, my hands will dance right off the keyboard onto my neighbor’s machine. Other students get really prickly about that.

7:35 a.m. I arrive at school to an empty classroom. I always feel a strange sense of pride about being the first one here. I never understood the late arrivals. I am too vulnerable to the threat of readback to risk missing my warm-up. I take out my 47 pounds of equipment and begin to set up. Is my machine cord fraying? Did someone sneeze on my laptop screen? I need to figure out how I can reorganize this suitcase for the 20th time this semester.

8:00 a.m. Dictation begins. This sounds like 160. This is going to be a good day. Ten minutes of perfection. I will get my last test. I am ready for the first three-minute readback take. Ready, set, go:

  1. Slate you tame and a dress, cheese.
  2. Bill 1#13 west

What is going on? I had this. So this is what 300 words a minute sounds like. Is she going to call on me first? Can I remember the address so I sound like I got it? Oh, crap! Get back in. Maybe she will call on me for the last minute.

Thank God that’s over. Now to pretend that I need something out of my bag so she won’t call on me. That fake sneeze sounded totally real. And now I need tissue. Perfect. Phew. Some other poor soul got called on. Just nod along as a fellow student reads — like you got every word. Nobody suspects a thing.

There is no way I am getting my last 225 today.

8:50 a.m. Break time. Do I dare have another coffee? My heart rate is approaching the dictation speed, so maybe not.

9:00 a.m. Mid-speed hour. No readback. Just write your heart out. Why is it that when I don’t have to read back I can write like Mark Kisslingbury going for the world record, but when there is readback, I am suddenly back in theory learning how to write “and” as “SKP” for the first time? Total mental breakdown.

11:00 a.m. Testing hour. This is it. One more and I am free. If I miss, I have to come back for another semester. That guy who rustles his paper better not pull that today. I would hate to go to jail before I can finish court reporting school! That other guy who has a bad habit of staring in the window while he awaits his lower speed tests walks by. I give him the evil eye as a silent warning as he exits the room.

Here it goes….

11:05 a.m. I think I got it! I don’t want to be overconfident. I need the next one too. Just in case. For the sake of my sanity.

11:10 a.m. OMG! I think I got both of them. Now, do everything right. Fill out the transcribing sheet. Don’t erase anything. What is that buzzing? Oh, just my nervous system on overload. Don’t add words, Roanna! Don’t believe that voice in your head that tells you that you remember what they said better than your notes!

11:35 a.m. How did I transcribe that test so fast? I have gone through it three times already. Should I go through it, again? No! I have to grade it. There are so many pages. Please, oh, please.

11:41 a.m. Thirty-two errors. I did it! I must have forgotten to count a bunch of pages. I think of the obsessive-compulsive, psychotic night ahead as I imagine all of the uncounted errors and how I could lose this test before final grading. I count them again, and again, and again. That’s it; 32. Somehow that will balloon to 64 by morning, right?

I clumsily attempt to put on sunglasses as voluminous tears begin to form, preparing to drown my flushed face. Why is this so hard? Did my head get bigger?

I ask the lab assistant to call my instructor for grading. She is gone for the day. I will have to wait until morning. I know I am done, but I cannot stop the doubt. Another student says, “You got your last one?” I say, “Don’t even say it. I don’t want to jinx anything,” as my practical self suddenly turns into a certain believer of superstition, magic, and all kinds of voodoo.

I make it to a side room where my friends sit. The doubt begins to leave me. I give them the thumbs up, and they say words. I go running. I make it to the elevator. I don’t remember how to turn my phone on. There it is. Just get inside the elevator doors. My husband answers, and I sob into my phone. He says, “It’s okay, honey. You will get it next semester.” “I got it,” I squeak. He cries. I cry. I drive home calling everyone that has been on this insane journey with me. By the time I get home, my phone looks like a clown in full makeup has been talking on it.

The rest of the day and night is a blur.

6:40 a.m. The next day. I wake up to a text from my most respected instructor. “Congratulations!” I roll over to go back to sleep exhausted from five hours of the same dream where my test is really 23 pages instead of eight, and I forgot to grade 14 of them. My hubby kisses my cheek and tells me how proud he is of me. The next text arrives moments later: “No time to rest now. Put on your game face. The RPR is on Saturday. See you at school in an hour.” I should have shut off my phone. Geesh! She’s always right, though. Up and at ’em. Venti Starbucks with an extra shot — after all, my heart is now beating at a comfortable pace for the first time in five years.

This is just a glimpse into my last day in court reporting school. The preceding five years went a lot like this without the last test and immense relief. There were triumphs and tears. I wrote this to tell all of you out there trying to make it happen: If I can do it, you can do it! Much of the advice I can offer is the simple stuff: Practice, get some sleep (easier said than done sometimes, I know). The real advice that no one wants to hear is even more effective: Get to school early and practice in addition to your regular home practice. Write to some crazy speeds and read it back. Sit in court and produce a transcript. Again and again and again, read your notes, edit your work. That feedback loop is crucial to success.

I stupidly waited five years to be called a “natural.” It was only in that last semester that I realized that if I wanted this, I would have to defy the odds. I had to do some crazy things, like meet my friend Gretchen in the cafeteria at 6:30 a.m. before class and read back 240 Q&A to each other. It was not easy. It was not comfortable.

The day I passed that final test changed me forever. All the doubt and the anxiety melted away. I became me again. I had forgotten what it was like to be me. I have never had a child, but I imagine court reporting school might be like a really, really long and painful labor and you forget some of the pain after you see that beautiful, crisp, unblemished fruit of your labor. In my case, it is a beautiful Technical A.A. in Realtime Reporting. It just sounds pretty, doesn’t it?

Court reporting school is not for the faint of heart. You have to be persistent. You have to get mad. You have to grab each test. Stop waiting for someone else to tell you how to do it. Get in there and do something different, something uncomfortable. Keep doing it until you win. You can do this!

Roanna L. Ossege is a freelance reporter in Virginia and a member of the NCRA’s Student Community of Interest.

Do you have a funny, inspiring, and/or interesting story about an experience you had in court reporting school? The NCRA Student Community of Interest would love to hear about it. Submit your best stories for possible publication to