There is a national speed competition for court reporters, and it happened right here in Denver

Channel 9 News reported Aug. 15 on the National Realtime Competition happening at the 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo.

Read more.

Pick up some PDCs when you help with contest grading

NCRA’s Contests Committee is seeking volunteers to help with on-site grading for the National Speed and Realtime contests being held during the Association’s 2019 Convention & Expo happening Aug. 15-18 at the Hyatt Regency Denver in Denver, Colo.

Graders are needed beginning the afternoon of Aug. 14 through Aug. 16. Volunteers who sign up to help grade can earn 0.25 Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for every two hours they assist, and they will be able to brag about their roles in participating in the making of Association history.

“Both of these contests are steeped in NCRA’s tradition and are considered the Olympics of the court reporting and captioning professions,” said Joan McQuinn, RPR, CRMS, chair of the Contests Committee, and an official court reporter from Rockford, Ill.

“Both competitions generate huge excitement among the contestants, as well as those who come to watch these professionals who have worked hard practicing and honing their skills in hopes of earning the right to be called the fastest and most accurate for the year among their peers. Helping grade is not only fun, but it gives those who volunteer the opportunity to make new friends and connections and to be part of the competitions without having to compete,” McQuinn added.

This year marks the 80th annual National Speed Contest which will draw more than two dozen of the fastest stenographic court reporters and captioners to compete on Aug. 14 for bragging rights. Contestants are tested on their ability to accurately transcribe dialogue that increases in speed and difficulty throughout each round. The first round begins at 220 words-per-minute while the final round ends at 280 words-per-minute. Similar to a traditional court reporter setting, contestants are allocated time to convert their stenography into a final transcript before scoring begins. Scoring is based on accuracy of their transcriptions given the increasing difficulty of dialogue speed.

On Aug. 15, many of the same contestants will gather to compete in the 20th annual National Realtime Contest where they will be judged on their ability to transcribe dialogue in real time. Much like a closed-caption setting, all activity happens live, meaning participants are unable to edit their transcript once the audio session is complete. This fast and furious competition is scored based on sheer translation speed and accuracy.

Winners of the contests and top scorers in each leg of the competitions are announced at a special awards luncheon where they are recognized as champions before their peers.

For more information or to sign up to serve as a volunteer grader and earn 0.25 PDCs per two hours of time, please contact NCRA Director of Communications & Public Relations Annemarie Roketenetz at

2018 Realtime Contest winner Mark Kislingbury shares his story

2018 NCRA Realtime Contest Winner Mark Kislingbury

NCRA member Mark Kislingbury, FAPR, RDR, CRR, owner of Magnum Steno from Houston, Texas, won the 2018 National Realtime Contest held during the Association’s Convention & Expo in New Orleans, La. It is his fifth Realtime Contest win. This win ties the record for most wins in the NCRA Realtime Contest with 2017-2018 Contests Committee co-chair Jo Ann Bryce, RMR, CRR, of Castro Valley, Calif. Kislingbury’s overall score was 99.24 percent.

Kislingbury placed second in the literary leg with a 99.20 percent accuracy rate, and first in the Q&A leg with a 99.28 percent accuracy rate.

The JCR Weekly recently reached out to him to find out more about what motivates him, how he prepares to compete, and how he learned about court reporting as a career.

JCR | In what area of the profession do you work?
KISLINGBURY | What I do does not actually fit into any of those groups! Most of my professional writing is for a national political radio program where the Web team for that program wants instant transcripts so they can post verbatim transcripts on their site. This demands accurate realtime so that I only have to make a few edits/corrections on commercial breaks and send that segment at the end of the commercial break. I also work for that same program before each particular show transcribing “sound bites” taken from television so that the host may have verbatim transcripts of those sound bites. Occasionally I still do broadcast captioning and will take a freelance job or a remote CART job.

JCR | How long have you been in the profession?
KISLINGBURY | 35 years.

JCR | How did you learn about the profession?
KISLINGBURY | I was a junior in high school in a Gregg shorthand class when a rep from the nearest court reporting school visited our class and showed us a brand-new olive green steno machine with shiny black keys. She told us you could graduate in two years, make a high salary right away, and that 95 percent of the students were girls. What’s to not like?

JCR | How many national contests have you participated in?
KISLINGBURY | I competed in NCRA Speed Contests from 1995 through 2010 (16 of them), and since 1999 I have competed in 18 of the 20 NCRA Realtime Contests.

JCR | Do you compete both in the Realtime and the Speed contests??
KISLINGBURY | I used to compete in both, but from 2011 through today I have not competed in an NCRA Speed Contest. I do enjoy competing in the California DRA Realtime Contests.

JCR | What motivates you to compete?
KISLINGBURY | I suppose it’s the pursuit of excellence. The pursuit of excellence seems to be a universal human value that contributes to overall happiness, self-esteem, and well-being. Since I love teaching court reporters and students to help them improve, I think that winning contests (where I have been fortunate enough to do so) lends added credibility to what I am teaching.

JCR | How did it feel to win this year?
KISLINGBURY | It felt great because it was the culmination of a lot of hard work in the practice room. There are so many amazing realtime competitors out there nowadays that it is extremely hard to win! And it’s so easy to “have a bad day” in the realtime contest. I believe only nine different individuals have won the NCRA realtime contest in its 20 years of existence! And only four have won it multiple times.

JCR | Do you plan to continue to compete at the national level?
KISLINGBURY | Absolutely!

JCR | What advice would you give someone who is considering competing at the national level?
KISLINGBURY | It’s fun! Do it for the experience, for the pursuit of excellence, not “to win.” It takes the pressure off if you have the attitude: “I just want to try my best and see what happens.” The other competitors are friendly and encouraging. Your first goal may well be to simply “qualify” in one of the two legs. (Qualifying means 95 percent accuracy or above.) Qualifying means you get ranked in a group of elite Realtime (or Speed) Contest reporters!

JCR | How far in advance do you begin to practice for the national contests?
KISLINGBURY | When I was competing in speed contests, I would start at least three months ahead of time. For the realtime contest, I start practicing 365 days ahead of the contest!

JCR | What is your practice routine to prep for these contests?
KISLINGBURY | For the realtime contest, generally I write a 5-minute take at around 280 and keep slowing it down in 5 percent increments until it’s about 225. The whole time I’m striving to write each stroke instantly, without ever getting behind. The “instant” takes precedence over “accuracy.” I generally write the take 7-8 times. By the time I quit, I’m realtiming it virtually perfectly. That takes 35-45 minutes. Then I take a break. The next time I practice, it’s a new take, same routine.

If I were doing the speed contest again, I would do the same practice regimen except start much faster than 280 and slow it down incrementally until it reached 280, doing each take 7-8 times before moving on.

JCR | Do you compete at the state level as well?
KISLINGBURY | Currently, only at the California Deposition Reporters Realtime Contests, which tend to be every February. I used to compete in the Texas Speed Contest in the 1990s. For many years I have chaired the Texas Court Reporters Association Realtime Contest and continue to do so to this day.

JCR | Is there anything else you would like to share?
KISLINGBURY | I have started a court reporting school, the Mark Kislingbury Academy of Court Reporting, in Houston, Texas. We opened in 2011. We have both on-site and online programs. Our first nine graduates (who started brand-new with us) have averaged one year and 10 months! Four of the nine were online students. I teach students my very short Magnum Steno Theory. There are several dozen happy and prospering professional reporters in the field who learned my theory. Many of them are providing realtime and/or captioning. I am attempting to do my small part to try to fix our nationwide court reporter shortage.

Kislingbury and Bryant step in the winners’ circle again

2018 Speed and Realtime contestants

Sherry Bryant, RMR, CRR, and Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRC, repeated wins for the national NCRA Speed Contest and Realtime Contest, respectively.

Bryant, who previously won in 2012, placed first in the Literary leg, with 5 errors; second in the Legal Opinion, with 12; and second in the Testimony, with 62. Her combined overall score was 97.94 percent. Bryant lives in Harrisburg, Pa. Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, of Nashville, Tenn., came in second place overall, and Karen Tyler, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Shreveport, La., placed third.

Kislingbury, who lives in Houston, Texas, earned first place overall in the Realtime Contest. It is his fifth Realtime Contest win. This win ties the record for most wins in the NCRA Realtime Contest with current Contests Committee co-chair Jo Ann Bryce, RMR, CRR, of Castro Valley, Calif. Kislingbury’s overall score was 99.245 percent.

Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR, of Baltimore, Md., took second place overall with a score of 98.933 percent. In addition to her Speed championship, Bryant earned third place overall in the Realtime Contest. Kislingbury, Zweizig, and past champion Dee Boenau, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Sarasota, Fla., tied for first in the Literary leg.

Kislingbury was interviewed by a local news station following the Realtime Contest. Realtime contestants Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Donna Karoscik, RDR, CRR, CRC, were also interviewed by a morning TV show in New Orleans.

The Speed Contest consists of three legs: literary at 220 wpm, legal opinion at 230 wpm, and testimony at 280 wpm. Contestants have a total of 90 minutes per leg for transcription. The Realtime Contest consists of two legs: literary at 200 wpm and testimony at 225 wpm. Contestants must turn in an ASCII file immediately following the end of dictation. In both contests, contestants must receive 95 percent accuracy to qualify; accuracy also determines the winners.

2018 Realtime Contest Results


Place   Percentage
1 Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRR 99.245%
2 Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR 98.933%
3 Julianne LaBadia, RDR, CRR, CRC 98.522%
4 Sherry Bryant, RMR, CRR 98.372%
5 Dee Boenau, RDR, CRR, CRC 98.045%
6 Ron Cook, RDR, CRR, CRC 97.872%
7 Lance Boardman, RPR, CRR 97.678%
8 Sheri Smargon, RDR, CRR, CRC 97.395%
9 John Wissenbach, RDR, CRR, CRC 96.572%
10 Patrick Mahon, RMR, CRR 95.850%
11 Donna Karoscik, RDR, CRR, CRC 95.745%



Place   Errors Percentage
1 Dee Boenau 8 99.200%
1 Mark Kislingbury 8 99.200%
1 Douglas Zweizig 8 99.200%
2 Ron Cook 15 98.500%
3 Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC 18 98.200%
3 Julianne LaBadia 18 98.200%
4 Sherry Bryant 21 97.900%
5 John Wissenbach 25 97.500%
6 Karla Ray, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI 28 97.200%
7 Sheri Smargon 29 97.100%
8 Lance Boardman 34 96.600%
9 Donna Karoscik 38 96.200%
10 Patrick Mahon, RMR, CRR 43 95.700%



Place   Errors Percentage
1 Mark Kislingbury 8 99.289%
2 Sherry Bryant 13 98.844%
2 Julianne LaBadia 13 98.844%
3 Lance Boardman 14 98.756%
4 Doug Zweizig 15 98.667%
5 Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI 23 97.956%
6 Sheri Smargon 26 97.689%
7 Ron Cook 31 97.244%
8 Dee Boenau 35 96.889%
9 Laura Landerman, RMR, CRR 40 96.444%
9 Donna Urlaub, RMR, CRR 40 96.444%
10 Melanie Wilkins, RMR, CRR 42 96.267%
11 Kathy Cortopassi, RMR, CRR, CRC 44 96.089%
11 Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR 44 96.089%
12 Patrick Mahon 45 96.000%
13 Katy Zamora, RMR, CRR 47 95.822%
14 John Wissenbach 49 95.644%
15 Traci Mertens, RDR, CRR, CRC 50 95.556%
16 Donna Karoscik 53 95.289%
17 Elizabeth Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC 54 95.200%
18 Kathryn Thomas, RDR, CRR, CRC 56 95.022%
19 Allison Hall, RMR, CRR 57 95.000%
19 Kathryn Sweeney, RMR, CRR 57 95.000%

* Contest results are preliminary.

Weigl and Boenau earn back-to-back wins

Jeff Weigl repeats with 2017 Speed Contest win

Jeff Weigl repeats with 2017 Speed Contest win

Jeffrey Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, repeated as the 2017 Speed Contest champion. Weigl won with an overall score of 97.268%. John Wissenbach, RDR, CRR, CRC, of San Francisco, Calif., earned second place overall with a final score of 96.382%. Weigl and Wissenbach were the only two contestants to qualify in all three legs of the contest. Dee Boenau, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Sarasota, Fla., earned the blue ribbon for the Literary leg of the Speed Contest while Weigl earned the top spot in both the Legal Opinion and Testimony legs.

Dee Boenau earns third trophy with 2017 Realtime Contest win

Dee Boenau earns third trophy with 2017 Realtime Contest win

Boenau also repeated her Realtime Contest win from 2016. Boenau previously won the contest in 2010 and 2016, bringing her total Realtime Championships to three. Weigl placed second overall in the Realtime Contest with an overall score of 98.117%. Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR, took third with a score of 97.875%. A four-way tie for the testimony leg of the Realtime – with 12 errors each – had Boneau; Zweizig; Mark Kislingbury, FAPR, RDR, CRR; and Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, earning blue medals for their efforts.

The Speed Contest consists of three legs: literary at 220 wpm, legal opinion at 230 wpm, and testimony at 280 wpm. Contestants have a total of 90 minutes per leg for transcription. The Realtime Contest consists of two legs: literary at 200 wpm and testimony at 225 wpm. Contestants turned in an RTF or ASCII file immediately following the end of dictation. In both contests, contestants must receive 95 percent accuracy to qualify; accuracy also determines the winners. The contests were held at the beginning of the NCRA Convention & Expo, Aug. 10-13 in Las Vegas, Nev.

View the Speed Contest results.

View the Realtime Contest results.

Read all the news from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo.

2017 Realtime Contest results


Place   Errors Percentage
1 Dee Boenau, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC 27 98.688%
2 Jeffrey Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC 39 98.117%
3 Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR 43 97.875%
4 Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC 57 97.262%
5 Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC 59 97.170%
6 Andrea Couch, RDR, CRR, CRC 59 97.121%
7 Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC 58 97.112%
8 Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR 65 96.781%
9 Dana Hayden, RMR, CRR 66 96.760%
10 Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI  71 96.506%
11 John Wissenbach, RDR, CRR, CRC 75 96.312%



Place   Errors Percentage
1 Dee Boenau 15 98.476%
2 Jeffrey Weigl 19 98.069%
3 Ron Cook 25 97.459%
3 Chase Frazier 25 97.459%
4 Doug Zweizig 31 96.850%
5 Andrea Couch 35 96.443%
6 John Wissenbach 40 95.935%
7 Dana Hayden 43 95.630%
8 Jennifer Schuck 46 95.325%
9 Terralyn Gentry, RPR, CRR, CRC 47 95.224%
10 Rich Germosen 48 95.122%
10 Patricia Nilsen  48 95.122%



Place   Errors Percentage
1 Dee Boenau 12 98.899%
1 Mark Kislingbury, FAPR, RDR, CRR 12 98.899%
1 Jennifer Schuck 12 98.899%
1 Doug Zweizig 12 98.899%
2 Rich Germosen 17 98.440%
3 Jeffrey Weigl 20 98.165%
4 Dana Hayden 23 97.890%
4 Patricia Nilsen 23 97.890%
5 Andrea Couch 24 97.798%
6 Donna Karoscik, RDR, CRR, CRC 29 97.339%
7 Lance Boardman, RDR, CRR 32 97.064%
7 Chase Frazier 32 97.064%
7 Traci Mertens, RDR, CRR, CRC 32 97.064%
8 Ron Cook 34 96.881%
9 John Wissenbach 35 96.689%
10 Anthony Trujillo, RMR, CRR 40 96.433%
11 Donna Urlaub, RMR, CRR 42 96.147%
12 Laurie Carlisle Hendrex, RMR, CRR 43 96.055%
12 Laura Kooy, RDR, CRR 43 96.055%
13 Tami Frazier, RMR, CRR 49 95.505%
14 Karen Tyler, RDR, CRR, CRC 52 95.229%
15 Deanna Dean, RDR, CRR 53 95.138%

* Contest results are preliminary.

Let the festivities begin in Las Vegas

More than 1,300 court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, educators, students, and other legal professionals joined together to kick off the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo today at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. The event runs through Sunday, Aug. 13, and is the largest gathering of professionals in the court reporting and captioning professions.

Festivities began with the Opening Reception held in the Expo Hall where dozens of vendors are displaying new products and services. In addition, a number of day-long pre-Convention intensive CAT vendor workshops were also offered.

Other highlights of the day included the Annual Business Meeting, the National Committee of State Associations Meeting, and the National Realtime Contest where contestants in the sold-out competition battled for top honors. First-time Convention goers also enjoyed an “Only New Once” networking reception.

Add speed and accuracy to the magic of your convention experience

Contestants for the 2014 Realtime Contest before the contest begins. Many look congenial. They sit in rows with their laptops and steno machines in front of them. In the back are about a dozen observers.

Whether you are a speed and accuracy junkie or just someone who loves to watch your peers perform at their highest possible levels, make plans to compete in or attend the 2017 National Speed and Realtime Contests being held at the NCRA Convention & Expo happening in Las Vegas, Nev.

Registration for both contests is at the halfway mark, and the deadline is drawing near. The Speed Contest is set to take place on Wednesday, Aug. 9, with the Realtime Contest happening on Thursday, Aug. 10. Both events will take place at the NCRA Convention & Expo host hotel Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

NCRA’s National Speed Contest first debuted at the 1909 convention in Lake George, N.Y., pitting Pitman and Gregg pen writers against one another. Today’s contestants continue to fight for top speeds and accuracy rates but on shorthand machines. Contestants face three, five-minute tests of live dictation that includes literary at 220 wpm, legal opinion at 230 wpm, and testimony at 280 wpm. Once done, contestants have 90 minutes to transcribe what they wrote. The transcripts are then graded for accuracy and combined with speed times to determine who makes it to the winner’s circle.

With the advent of realtime software, NCRA introduced the National Realtime Contest in 1999 to showcase members’ instantaneous speech-to-text skills. Just as challenging as the Speed Contest, contestants face two five-minute dictations: one of straight matter at 200 wpm and another of two-voice dictation at 225 wpm. Tests are submitted for grading immediately upon completion of the contests, and contestants must qualify with an accuracy rate of 95 percent or better to have a shot at the top spots.

Both contests offer challenging and difficult tests of skill and endurance. And each year, both veterans and first-timers show up to participate, as do those who just want to observe and be inspired. The JCR Weekly reached out to two members, a veteran participant and an observer, to find out more about what draws court reporters and captioners to the contests.

According to Ed Varallo, FAPR, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Boston, Mass., competing is a way for him to challenge himself. Varallo won the speed contest in 1974, in 1975 (where he scored a perfect score in the 280 wpm testimony leg), and in 1976, and then returned to win again in 1986, in 1996, and in 2006 after having retired from competing for 10 years.

“The men and women who put their skills on the line and enter the National Speed Contest or Realtime Contest are setting an example for all of us. They’re showing us what the most skillful practitioners of our art can do. And I find that inspiring. Makes me want to be the best reporter I can be,” Varallo said.

“If you don’t enter the contest, come watch it. You’ll be inspired. It’s exciting to watch fingers fly as the words pour forth at astronomical speeds! I’ve entered state and national contests and won six national contests. What motivates me is always the same thing: I want to challenge myself the way these other reporters are challenging themselves. Interestingly, when you compete, you’re competing with yourself. It doesn’t feel like you’re competing with the other contestants in the room,” he said.

“Sure, each of us is scored and ranked against all other contestants, but for me, I was happy when I performed well. If I won, well, that’s great, and I’d like to win again. But if I performed well, got a good score, and somebody beat me, I might be disappointed — but I wouldn’t feel defeated because I knew I gave it my best shot. When you compete in a high-speed contest, and transcribe your paper, and especially if you’re happy with your performance, it’s exhilarating! It makes you want to do it again! And, of course, it keeps your writing skills in tip-top shape so that you can be the best reporter you’re capable of, every day. And that’s what a true professional aims to do every day,” he added.

Mike Hensley, RPR, is a freelance court reporter from Evanston, Ill., and a member of NCRA’s New Professionals Committee. At the 2016 NCRA Convention & Expo in Chicago, Ill., Hensley had the opportunity to watch the Realtime Contest. He said watching it gave him the chance to be exposed to new approaches and methods to attain high-speed writing while watching the best of the best in the industry live in action.

“I was absolutely thrilled and energized just to be in the room, even as a spectator. I was inspired to set goals for myself to be able to join in the fun at my earliest opportunity. I think there’s always something new to observe from the contestants. Every competition is different. Just like our jobs, each session brings a new experience. The competition is so tight; it’s never certain who exactly is going to win top honors,” Hensley said.

“Before observing the contest, it seemed like such a lofty goal. After observing it in person, I gained the feeling that speed contests were definitely something that I could work towards in my personal development. I haven’t competed yet. Right now, I’m working on attaining the necessary certifications in order to be eligible,” he said.

“Several of my mentors are speed contestants. And there are many other contestants who graciously encourage and inspire others to be the best they can be in the profession. Competition in this arena is fun! The participants eagerly welcome new participants,” he added.

According to Hensley, keeping an eye on speed contests offers many ideas for becoming better as a reporter. Even if you don’t compete, you can learn ways to write shorter, faster, and cleaner, he noted. “You don’t have to be able to write at competition speeds in order to make your own skill set stronger and sharper. Seeing the contest live helps to demystify perceptions about the event and make it more accessible. If you have even the slightest interest, I highly recommend you watch the next contest that you can,” said Hensley.

He also encourages students to make the effort to watch the contests as spectators and use the experience as another opportunity to learn from those who are experienced in the profession.

“The Speed Contest participants are arguably some of the best in the field. Who wouldn’t want to watch the best of the best? Speed contests are also extremely motivating for those who have the competitive spirit. It’s the same as watching Olympic athletes. Not only do you see the results of hard work, but you also get an idea of the training and dedication it takes to reach that level of excellence.”

Are you up for the challenge? Register now to participate in the Speed or Realtime Contests when you register for the 2017 NCRA Convention and Expo at

For more inspiration, be sure to read “Five minutes with Speed Champ Jeff Weigl” and “Five minutes with Realtime Champ Dee Boenau.” For those competing or considering to compete, be sure to read “Top 11 tips from Speed and Realtime Contests graders,” written by Russell Page and Pat Miller, CRI, CPE, veteran members of NCRA’s Contest Committee and long-term contest graders.

Don’t miss all the perks of early registration. Book a room at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino for the opportunity to win — NCRA is offering prizes to those staying in the discounted room block at Planet Hollywood, including a refund of your entire convention registration and a Kindle Fire tablet to those who additionally download the app. Special room rates disappear July 4.

Top 11 tips from Speed and Realtime Contests graders

contestsBy Russell Page and Pat Miller

Some things do not change from steno school, when grading students who are striving for skill to the grading of papers of the skilled reporters who are striving for new heights of speed and accuracy in the Speed and Realtime Contests. For a different perspective, we thought that as people who review the contest papers, we could share the errors we saw. So many great writers participate in the contests, and little things can make a big difference. Even if you are not planning to compete in a state or national contest, we hope that these tips can help you.

  1. Our first piece of advice is the one we wish all contestants would take to heart: Have fun. Even though your goal in challenging yourself through steno contests may be to support a serious or professional outcome, the participation in preparing for and taking contests with your peers, where each contestant is in a game against oneself, should at the very least to be fun. And maybe at the very most, too.
  2. Second big reveal: Prepare the procedures for setting up, writing, and turning in the contest papers. Go through the steps so often that you have no need to doubt yourself. Make a list of what you use and check it off item by item when packing for travel to the convention. If you are not certain that some item, such as a surge protector, will be provided, pack one.

Feel confident that you have with you what you need to succeed, regardless of where you place, from your listening skills and focus to your up-to-date steno skills to all the necessary equipment on hand.

  1. Write with intent. Call it practice if you wish. Writing with intent means that you are writing steno in a way that maximizes your chances of winning a contest, which may simply be upping your game from the last challenge or may take you all the way to the medal round. Write a section and then play the audio to check your translation but also check your steno. What outlines may be sabotaging your speed or realtime? We know what comes up most often. See tip Five.
  2. Write using the guidelines as your guides. Know the contests rules and “errors or allowed” prep sheets front to back and practice with those as your guide. If you can translate in all caps for Realtime, thereby not having any capitalization errors, practice using all-caps translation so that you can give yourself a grading advantage right from the get-go. Graders are not looking for saleable transcripts. They are looking for best possible, advanced skills translation.
  3. Five discloses the biggest error: That is that. That shows up as a pronoun in two categories of pronoun use, as a conjunction, as an adjective, and as an adverb. It’s a big deal. It matters in contests in ways that it may not matter even in verbatim writing on the job. When you are working in Tip 3, writing with intent, practice listening for “that” and then note when you miss it as you read back to assess your take. Are there patterns to when you hear and stroke it correctly and to when you miss it? If you find patterns that you can change to improve your grade, know that it will improve your work output as well. A two-fer. A bonus.
  4. Don’t get fancy unless practice fancy. If you put in an open quote but not a close quote, points will be deducted even if quotes were not necessary in that instance. This is true for comma pairs. The grading guidelines are really generous about the need or lack thereof for commas. If you put a comma in that requires a partner and you miss the partner, you might begin to rack up the errors. As with “that,” commas are everywhere.
  5. Think of contests as a travel job for another reporting agency. You will receive formatting guidelines and preview material so that you represent the agency seamlessly and consistently with the work of the agency’s regular pool of writers. If you want the job, you follow their guide sheets. If you want to pass grading, you have to work with the guidelines at hand.
  6. When you are writing realtime contests, consider not writing what you don’t know will translate. An untran of three strokes is three errors at least. One missed word is one error. If you are going to try to write a word, have the skill necessary to quickly delete what didn’t translate and move on.
  7. When you are transcribing speed contests, don’t be in a hurry. Few contestants spend even half the time allowed per leg on any one leg. We are not remarking on contestants who “know” they didn’t pass but are transcribing “just to see” how they did. These are contestants who pass at 95 percent and above but who miss the simplest things because they didn’t just sit with each leg as if it was going to be a saleable transcript. If you don’t need the full ninety minutes per leg, great. But please do not rush and regret. The 280 Testimony is 1,400 words. Even if it takes 45 minutes to complete the transcription, that leaves 45 minutes to review, to perhaps read it backwards to catch misspellings and errors in consistency.
  8. There is no cell phones and no Internet use during the contest. Everyone who attends either of NCRA’s Speed and Realtime Contests is asked to turn off their cell phones and leave it outside the room. If you cannot be untethered during the contest due to life’s circumstances, it is best to sit out these events. In addition, there is no cell phone use and no Internet use during transcription. It’s you against you, no additional assists. Writer with writer, mano a keyboard, you versus the Speed of the Spoken Word. But remember tip #1 – this should be fun. Mechanical and technical interruptions that break the focus of the contestants ruin the pure joy of writing with intent. Intent to challenge. Intent to win. Turn them off and turn them in and then tune in to your inner steno writing warrior.
  9. Graders do not want to find errors. It is such a thrill to grade for pages before an error sneaks in. We gasp, we groan, we look for every opportunity to give back points where we can within the guidelines. We are in awe and humbled each year by the level of enthusiasm, commitment, and skill of all of the contestants who sign up and show up, who know that you can’t win if you don’t play.

Russell Page and Pat Miller, CRI, CPE, are Contests Committee members and have participated in the grading process for years.