July 31 2014

I Love Steno: The Student Edition: Things To Do Before Working: Read & Edit Your Dictionary

When attempting to master any language, the most basic and wisest course of action is reading the dictionary for that language. I would argue that the same can be said for steno.

You should periodically read and edit your dictionary. I would especially advise reading and editing your dictionary at the point when you notice a drastic change in your writing style. Studying your dictionary at this pivotal period will reinforce the modifications that you have made to your writing, as well as encourage you to make mental notes of what you have chosen to “throw away” and what you have chosen to “keep.”

Personally, I have read and edited my dictionary in its entirety twice thus far. The first time was when I reached 180 WPM writing speed and realized that it would greatly benefit me to implement phrasing into my writing. The second time was after earning my AOD degree in court reporting. I want to bridge the gap between being a student and a working reporter.

As a student, your focus is often on gaining speed so that you can complete your school’s course of study within their allotted time parameters. Therefore, sometimes, there is neglect to methods of study that don’t focus on speedbuilding. I felt that in order to be a proficient working reporter, reading and editing my dictionary (among other things) was something I should concentrate on. Therefore, I dedicated a chunk of my time to this exhaustive endeavor.

At first, I was concerned that using a large percentage of my daily study time to once again become well acquainted with my dictionary would negatively affect my speed. However, I found that just the opposite occurred.

After completely reading and editing my dictionary, I had markedly less hesitation. I also felt a lot closer to being realtime ready. I felt very pleased and accomplished for building a strong realtime foundation (although I’m not totally doing realtime yet). I even got extremely nice compliments from reporters I sat in with who observed my screen while I was writing. (SIDEBAR: I have a small theater size laptop screen. They couldn’t miss it. Lol.)

Be sure in your quest for speed you don’t neglect your dictionary. You may not have the time to read your dictionary from beginning to end, but you can pace yourself. Even perusing a page full of definitions every few days can help your writing immensely.

Remember, dictionary study doesn’t solely include adding words to it. It also means having a working knowledge of what words, briefs, and phrases your dictionary contains; eliminating conflicts; coming up with a consistent writing pattern; and “taking out the junk.”

Love, Speed & Accuracy,

Elsie Villega

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July 23 2014

I Love Steno: The Student Edition- Working On Speed & Accuracy? Get Your Emotions In Check

Going through court reporting school can evoke a cornucopia of feelings and emotions. It’s important to enjoy the ride and put anything that may be causing you stress into a perspective that makes it manageable for you. Remember, everyday is progress! Everyday you commit to bettering your skill is a step forward, no matter what the present results may be.

There is a direct correlation between how you “feel” about being in school and about learning your new skill, and how effectively you learn. There have been many studies on this topic. According to, “How The Brain Learns,” “How a person ‘feels’ about a learning situation determines the amount of attention devoted to it. Emotions interact with reason to support or inhibit learning.” Scientists have also proven that stress can affect your ability to retain information and learn. “How The Brain Learns” also states, “The hippocampus is susceptible to stress hormones that can inhibit cognitive functioning and long-term memory.”

Trying to pass that speed test or master your theory? Relax!!!! Go enjoy your favorite activity. Exhale!!!! Don’t look at the learning process as a burden. Don’t look at it as something you can’t wait to be done with. Enjoy it, and revel in all of its twists and turns! Practice, practice, practice; then, treat yourself to a fun activity or outing.

Love, Speed & Accuracy,

Elsie Villega

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July 18 2014

I Love Steno: The Student Edition- Students, Know Your Rights

The starting point for any skill or career is learning the fundamentals. It is important that the enthusiasm of a novice drawn to learn a skill is complemented with a warm, proficient, and welcoming educational environment. This is especially true when it comes to a skill like stenography, which requires an immense amount of concentration and time to achieve mastery.

It is an unfortunate reality of society that there exists “educational institutions” that do not have the educational advancement of their students as their foremost goal. Some schools are primarily profit-seeking entities that expend a minimum amount of resources catering to the basic learning needs of their students.

A student should always be aware of their rights and various options of recourse should their rights be violated and their educational standards be left unmet.

Be sure to request that your school provides you with a written/published copy of their grievance policies. Also, be certain to get all other important school guidelines in writing. If a school is refusing to cooperate with your request to get their policies in writing, get their refusal in writing.

It is beneficial to communicate with school administrators in a manner that will document any promises or declarations that are made to you. For this reason, favor written communications over verbal communications.

Schools that are certified by the National Court Reporting Association (NCRA) must adhere to the “General Requirements and Minimum Standards (GRMS)” that are set by the NCRA’s Council on Approved Student Education (CASE).

The NCRA allows for the filing of complaints against member schools. However, they require you to accompany their complaint form with the “final written decision of the institution.” You must also cite the specific GRMS rule number that the court reporting program has allegedly violated. Be aware that filing a complaint via the NCRA also requires that the student signs a form stating that they “have received a copy of the complaint procedures,” and “agree to abide by them.” The complaint form also asks the student to agree to “disclose the contents of [the] complaint to the approved court reporting program complained against, the members of the Council on Approved Student Education Association directors, officers, and appropriate staff.” It should be noted that, “The NCRA Council on Approved Student Education will not consider and monetary disputes.”

The aforementioned courses of action are not your only options. If necessary, you may want to reach out to an education attorney. There are great legal sites, such as www.Justia.com, that will list attorneys in your geographical area. This site also provides information for pro bono attorneys.

Also, be mindful that, according to www.Justia.com, “The United States Department of Education monitors the distribution of federal financial aid for education, focuses national attention on key educational issues and ensures that students are given equal access to school programs.

Love, Speed & Accuracy,

Elsie Villega

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May 18 2014

I Love Steno: The Student Edition- The Different Types Of Q & A

Q & A testing can be a very varied experience. The test can be a variety of short answers, long answers, multi-syllabic words, short words, medical terminology, etc. To be prepared you should practice a variety of different Q & A formats. I compare it to being a runner who can marathon, sprint, and hurdle jump.

Below is a list of different types of Q & A formats. From experience, I think that you should have practice takes that include, or represent, all of the following formats that are contained in the list. This is something that I have learned through creating my own study curriculum to help me advance through my steno goals. Hopefully, this will also help other students.

Love, Speed, and Accuracy,

Elsie Villega

Types Of Q & A Formats:

1) Short questions with long answers, or long questions with short answers. With this type of Q & A, be prepared that the writing of the designations will not be as rhythmic as it is in popcorn Q & A (see below). Be sure not to drop the short part of the exchange if you happen to be trailing the speaker on the long part of the exchange.

2) Long questions with long answers. These can be comparable to a literary take sometimes.

3) Literary like Q & A. This can contain long questions and/or answers that are chock full of multi-syllabic words. You might find your mind wandering to question to yourself, “Is this a Q & A or a lit?” Lol. Fight the urge to wonder, and just write!

4) Popcorn Q & A. A succession of short questions with short answers. This format is pretty rhythmic in its back and forth exchange. However, it can also feel a lot speedier due to the fact that designations have to be rapidly made. If there’s anytime for laser-like focus, it’s during popcorn Q & A.

5) Technical/Expert Testimony. You’ll hear a bunch of multi-syllabic words that are familiar only to people who are well acquainted with a certain industry or profession.

6) Medical. Hopefully, you’ve gotten yourself a medical dictionary or medical textbook. I have a textbook that came with a CD that contains the proper pronunciation of medical terms. However, keep in mind that due to the high syllabic nature of a lot of medical terms, you may hear a term pronounced a number of different ways. Don’t let this throw you off. Write what you hear. It will be highly likely that you will be able to transcribe the term correctly if you get most of the syllables down. This is a plus for multi-syllabic words. The exception is if there are word derivatives and you don’t write the proper ending. That’s always a downer! All those strokes for nothing. Smh. Lol.

7) Date repeating Q & A. There are question and answer exchanges in which the date of the incident comes up a million times. I learned this trick from one of the awesome reporters that I interned with: Write the date out a couple of times, and then have a one-stroke designation that you use every time the date comes up after that. Brilliant! I also have added on to that great advice by creating a designation for the date when it recurs sans the year. For example, you may hear, “On the event that occurred on, February 3, 2014…” and, you may also subsequently hear, “At the time of the incident on, February 3,…” Have a designation to denote both dates, one with the year and one without.

8) Q & A where a list of items is constantly repeated.

9) Repetition of clichéd phrases. For example, you may hear, “At the time of the accident…” numerous times throughout the Q & A. As a matter of fact, a majority of the questions may be prefaced with the statement. These Q & As are great if you have a brief for the phrase cemented in your memory bank, and not so great if you don’t.

10) Choppy Q & A. Q & A where the answers make no sense, or the questioner keeps interrupting themselves to rephrase the question. Arghh!! Don’t fret, just be ready to hit your dash designation. There’s nothing more confusing than trying to transcribe this random collection of words without your dashes.

11) Q & A with frequent interruptions. Speaking of dashes, be dash-ready for this type of Q & A. If you’re not dash-ready in this type of situation, you may erroneously think you dropped chunks of dictation when you in fact got everything down perfectly. Nothing tests you faith more with your writing than when you leave out a dash and you’re trying to decide whether you dropped, or left out a dash.

12) Include- heavy Q & A. Mark this, fill in that, or take a break here, etc. Be sure to be well acquainted with your include designations for this type of Q & A.

13) Colloquy ridden Q & A. You don’t have to worry about this with 2-voice, but 3-voice and up, be sure to have you multi-speaker designations well practiced.

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March 15 2014

I Love Steno: The Student Edition- Theory

Theory is every students introduction to stenographic writing. Steno theories can range from writing everything out, to “short writing,” to a combination thereof.

Theories that emphasize writing everything out focus on getting a stroke for every syllable of a word. Writing a word out syllable-by-syllable is a very useful skill to have in your writing repertoire. This method of writing especially comes in handy when you encounter words that are unfamiliar to you. It can also be helpful when you are writing multisyllabic words. However, a theory that focuses on “getting a stroke for every sound” can be very constricting when you are writing steno at high speeds.

Steno theories that emphasize “short writing” encourage the writer to write words with a minimum number of strokes. This type of writing can be advantageous when writing with speed. However, when it is not combined with the skill of writing unfamiliar words syllabically, it can lead to hesitation when the writer hears unfamiliar words.

There is also another very important part of stenographic writing, phrasing. Phrasing is usually also emphasized in “short writing.” Phrasing provides one-stroke briefs for oft-heard phrases such as, “I don’t think so, what is your name, I don’t know, etc.” In my opinion, phrasing is a very important part of the formula to successfully writing at high speeds. Phrasing is also helpful in relieving writing fatigue. Being able to write multiple words in a single stroke greatly cuts down on hand movement.

As a student, you have a great stake in the writing methods that are taught to you in theory. These methods will be the foundation of your writing and have a direct connection to how successful you will be at writing at high speeds.

Here is where students can benefit from my 20/20 hindsight. This is some great advice that I wish I knew as a student: If you want to get an idea of how effective your school’s theory is, ask the students in the last speed class, particularly students who are at the 225 testing level.

Be aware that some schools will teach you to write everything out. Some skills will also fail to teach you the skill of phrasing, or will introduce phrasing into the teaching curriculum at the high-speed level where it will be extremely difficult for the student to quickly implement it into their writing due to months or years of practicing a technique that excluded the skill.

Be alerted to the fact that there are some schools that have a self-serving agenda when they teach you to write everything out. Learning the long way of writing will likely slow your advancement through the high-level speed classes, thus allowing the school to collect more of your tuition money when your progress grinds to a halt. Therefore, I reiterate, ask your schoolmates in the higher speed class if the theory they were taught has been a help or a hindrance to their advancement through school. Ask students in the high speed class how long they have been in the class. If there are students who have been in the last speed class for an inordinate amount of time, despite practicing diligently, this could be a sign that they were taught an ineffective theory. It will be helpful to you as a student/potential student if you are able to poll some of the higher speed level students BEFORE you enroll in a school.

Best wishes on your speed journey.

Love, Speed & Accuracy,

Elsie Villega

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March 13 2014

Elsie Villega Presents…I Love Steno: The Student Edition

I recently completed my journey as a steno student. Although I still feel like I’m just beginning my steno adventure, I have learned a lot from my experience as a student. Going from theory to 225 is quite a feat. I have acquired knowledge that has given me “20/20 hindsight”; things I could have greatly benefited from had I known them at the start of my educational quest. I will be sharing these things in a series of I Love Steno: The Student Edition posts.

Love, Speed & Accuracy,

Elsie Villega

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