Frequently Asked Questions for Students

1) What do my job prospects look like coming out of school? With all this talk of electronic recording and court layoffs, will court reporting still be a viable profession when I’m ready to work in the field?

Absolutely. Although the dynamics of court reporting certainly have changed over the course of the last few years, your future as a reporter is still bright. While it is true that many of our esteemed colleagues in the court system have lost their jobs through California’s drastic budget cuts, the vacancies left in these courtrooms are now being filled by freelance court reporters at the cost of the attorneys litigating the actions in question. This change in our legal system has enabled freelance reporters to work in the realm of court, if they so choose, without the commitment of employment by the State or Federal Government. Deposition reporting is also still a fantastic and lucrative alternative, as well as the ever-growing fields of CART reporting and captioning.

National and state associations have long battled the common myth that electronic recording is a more cost-effective method than stenographic reporting when it comes to taking down verbatim testimony in a legal proceeding. However, it has been proven time and time again that, as it stands, digital audio recording just doesn’t measure up. It cannot tell a witness to speak up or slow down, nor can it decipher a heavy accent. Myriad problems arise when a machine, rather than a human being, is monitoring the recording of vital testimony, especially when lives hang in the balance or millions of dollars are at stake. As advocates of the stenographic court reporting profession, we need to continually promote the simple truth that certified, trained court reporters are the most effective method of ensuring an accurate verbatim record. As long as we continue to dispel the myths surrounding our trade, the industry of court reporting will undoubtedly flourish for years to come.

2) As I have advanced through my speed classes, I have found myself creating more briefs for common words and phrases. However, I have had several instructors discourage me from doing so. What’s the story here? Should I be briefing less?

To brief or not to brief? That is, unfortunately, the question. Briefing is a very personal activity, and there is no one correct school of thought on this issue. Many schools discourage briefing ad students are being told, “When in doubt, stroke it out.” While never discounting the importance of being able to write any word phonetically on the fly if need be, briefing is a valuable tool. In the high-stress world of fast-talking attorneys, only those with the nimble fingers survive. However, briefing has a fantastic quality of evening the playing field for those who struggle to keep up. Fewer strokes for more words is a simple equation for speed. How many times have you been performing a dictation in school, perilously close to falling behind, only to hear a “briefable” phrase that helps put you back in the game? A good brief for a common word or phrase sure can save the day on a tough dictation!

The trick here is to start small. Focus primarily on high frequency words to start, and carefully work your way up to small phrases. Once you have a sizeable repertoire of briefs at your disposal, you can then decide whether you’d like to go one step further by incorporating briefs for longer phrases that you struggle with. Make sure you are practicing new briefs and giving extra attention to the ones that cause you to hesitate. Try to focus on and add at least two to three briefs a day. If you can add just three briefs to your dictionary every day, you will have added over 1000 new outlines to your dictionary in a year’s time!

Your professors have your best interests at heart when they discourage you to brief, as unless it’s done smartly, it can be counterproductive. Remember: If you hesitate during a dictation trying to remember a brief, it has done you a disservice. A brief is only useful if you remember it, so make it a habit to continually drill new briefs until they become automatic. As long as you follow these simple rules of briefing, your professors will agree that they are a fantastic tool to improving your writing quality and speed.

3) Testing has been a constant source of anxiety for me as I’ve moved through school. Now that the CSR is fast approaching, I’m afraid that my nerves won’t be up to snuff for the challenge. Do you have any tips for students preparing to take the CSR exam?

The CSR exam is enough to make any veteran test-taker quake in their boots, so it’s no wonder that the prospect of the test is giving you serious anxiety. While nerves and apprehension are an unfortunate side effect of testing for the majority of us, overpreparing yourself in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the exam can help you to combat any doubts you have about your ability to prevail. Here are some tried and true methods for preparing for the CSR that will help your confidence level on the big day:

a) Transcribe everything in sight.
You’ve heard it a million times before – transcribe, transcribe, transcribe. The reason you HAVE heard it a million times before is because it’s the surest way to pass the CSR exam. Learning how to read your steno notes quickly and accurately is the most effective tool you have to combat the difficulties of the skills test. The more effectively you can comb through a transcript, the more likely you are to pinpoint errors that could potentially mean the difference between passing and failing the exam. In the weeks and months leading up to the test, make an extra effort to transcribe dictations of 30 minutes or more. This serves a dual purpose: One, writing longer dictations helps you to build up the stamina you need to write the 12 to 14 minutes of sustained, high-speed testimony given at the CSR; and two, proofing longer transcripts helps you to improve the speed and accuracy by which you edit, as you will become more familiar with common mistakes and misstrokes that you may have not known you were making to begin with.

Some good sources for dictation that are tremendously helpful when gearing up for the CSR are: CSPAN, CNN,, and books on tape. Another fantastic source? YouTube. Presidential debates, commencement speeches, TED lectures, court trials, and videotaped depositions are plentiful on YouTube and are great sources for dictation and dictionary-building.

b) Study your codes.
Oftentimes, students become so consumed by the skills portion of the CSR that they forget that there are two OTHER giant hurdles to overcome – the English and Professional Practice exams. A good working knowledge of the English language is a MUST for any successful reporter, which I’m sure goes without saying, but one part of the written exam that many would-be reporters neglect is the portion of the Professional Practice exam that deals with the California Code of Civil Procedure. Learning these codes backwards and forwards is not only necessary in order to obtain your CSR, but the knowledge will later prove invaluable as you navigate the many ethical dilemmas that will arise during the course of your career as a court reporter. The most appropriate way to proceed in an unusual depo situation is usually as simple a matter as turning to the codes for guidance. The CCP doesn’t hold all the answers, but it generally will shed light on the best way to protect the integrity of the record – and your license -- in sticky situations.

The only caveat to the codes is, while they are an integral source of information, they are extremely dense and –dare we say it? – BORING. We would suggest starting to skim over pertinent codes as early as in your 140s. The Professional Practice exam is not exactly the kind of test you can cram for at the eleventh hour, so developing some familiarity with these passages early on in your student career will only benefit you in the long run.

c) Practice high-speed takes.
This well-known “secret” requires little explanation, but the fact is the faster you are accustomed to writing, the easier slower speeds will become, period. Consistently practicing and listening to dictation at 225 wpm and above will ensure that there are no surprises for you on test day.

d) Take the RPR.
Of course, we all know that the CSR isn’t the only show in town -- its equally difficult cousin, the RPR, is another certification test that will push you to the very limits of your skill. If money and time permit, consider taking the RPR as a precursor to the CSR. It is a great dry-run of your nerves to see how you react and perform under pressure. While the tests are not identical in material and procedure, going through the testing process at the RPR will likely take some of the mystery out of the CSR and help calm some of those wayward nerves.

Another added bonus: If you do happen to pass this challenging certification test, it will add three more letters to your name that will set you apart from the crowd once you enter the working world.