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The faces behind the testing voices

Rob Buhrman, producer Mike Caplan and Brenda Line in the recording studio

The next time you sit down to take a Skills Test, you might not be thinking about the people behind the recording, but they are thinking about you.

“As a former reporter and reporting teacher, I think about the test takers every second I speak,” said Brenda Line. “Having been on the business end of a steno machine, I know how difficult testing can be. Rob and I want to make sure every word is intelligible. We try to project soothing voices to help the reporters stay calm and maintain steady nerves. We try to do everything we can to help the reporters have successful outcomes for this noble profession!”

NCRA Director of Certification and Testing Amy Davidson and Certification and Testing Program Manager Eva Liu recently worked with Line and Rob Buhrman to record new Skills Tests, as well as the legs for the Speed Contest and Realtime Contests, which recently switched to pre-recorded materials.

Liu said they record two or three times a year.

Rob Buhrman

Buhrman has been recording for NCRA since 2013. He said it is a unique job.

“There is an extra focus on pace, timing, and clarity for these recordings compared to other voice jobs,” Buhrman said. “Reading with a stopwatch for a 5-minute exam is a unique task, especially for the faster testimony pieces.”

Buhrman said to prepare, “I usually rehearse the higher speed exams aloud to try to identify any stumbling blocks. (There’s not much time to think when you’re reading at 260 wpm!)”

“They do such an amazing job,” said NCRA’s Liu. “Some of the tests are hard material and fast speed, so they have to re-record some of the sentences several times to get it right and on the time mark. They are very strict with themselves. They won’t let any voice crack, slurred words, or even a click in the background pass by without re-recording. They also have to ensure that they are perfect on time marks. The NCRA staff are there to also check and ensure that the reading and the test are a perfect match, down to each punctuation mark, as well as timing.”

Line said she has been recording for NCRA since May 2011, but she was not new to this type of voice work.

Brenda Line

“This job is similar to my other voice jobs that included live dictation in my work as a court reporting instructor and live dictation of NCRA skills tests while working for Central Penn College,” Line said. “I’ve also recorded countless hours of practice and test dictation for Lifeline Dictation. When NCRA recruited me, I was just finishing a skills test project for Realtime Coach, so there was a natural flow into recording NCRA Skills Tests. Although my experience spans many years, I still get a bit nervous at the high speeds.”

Line said she reads the tests before entering the studio.

Producer Mike Caplan

“We receive the tests that are marked in 15-second increments,” Line said. “For the high speeds, I add my own time markings at 7.5 seconds to help maintain an even cadence and preserve the accuracy of the speed.”

Both Line and Buhrman said they are thinking about the test takers.

“Absolutely!” Buhrman said. “Anytime we hear something that was even slightly unclear during recording, we have to correct it so that the test takers are listening to something that is as perfect as we can make it. They have enough to think about without hearing something that may not be perfectly clear.”

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