How to Study For and Pass the RPR Skills Exam

by AbbyFitz

The words "RPR test" strike fear in the hearts of seasoned and newbie court reporters alike. Here are some great tips to help you pass the RPR skills exam on your first attempt.

I worked as a court reporter for ten years before I finally broke down and took the Registered Professional Reporter exam. I was lucky to live in Florida, one of only about 20 states that don't require the certificate to be a stenographer, so I hadn't needed to take the test before I started reporting.

I wanted to become an RPR because I believe in being the best in my career. But the thought of speed tests freaked me out. How could I ever pass, let alone pass on my first try?

Well, pass on my first try I did, and I learned that my ability to pass or fail the RPR began long before test day.

It's All in Your Head

It sounds cliche, but it's true.

I was waffling back and forth when I was thinking of signing up to take the RPR. Could I pass it? Was it too hard? I don't want to waste all that money!

 

Then one day it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I thought, "I do this everyday for a living. If I can't hang on for five minutes, I shouldn't be doing this job."

Don't Overthink Things!
Don't Overthink Things!

The same reasoning can be applied to brand new court reporting graduates. You've passed all of your 225 Q&A's to get your diploma. What's the difference between a speed test at your school, and a speed test at the RPR testing site?

The answer is not a thing. The difference is what you make the RPR out to be in your mind.

It's nerves, not ability that keeps most reporters from obtaining their RPR.

Don't Freak Out! It's Just a Test!

Control your nerves and the RPR will be yours.

Five minutes writing 225 Q&A? That's no big deal to most graduates and working reporters. But as soon as you slap the word test on that five minute take, suddenly everyone's eyes glaze over and they freeze like a deer that's caught in the headlights.

So what's a wannabe RPR to do?

In a word, relax. Yes, taking tests can be scary, but remember, you've written 225 wpm takes before and aced them. This is just another take.

Don't dwell on the fact that you're taking a test. In fact, don't even think about test day in the days and months leading up to your exam date. Hopefully you've been spending your time practicing your lit, JC, and Q&A instead of wasting your time worrying about whether you'll pass.

My strategy was just practice, practice, practice. I knew if I was confident in my abilities, I would feel prepared.

Other RPR's I've talked to and swapped war stories with used hypnosis CD's to help calm their nerves. After taking the test and failing it multiple times, they tried hypnosis and they were finally able to pass.

 

Practice Will Get You the Results You Want

Yeah, practicing is a bummer, but you won't get anywhere without it.

Writing on a Court Reporter's Steno MachineNobody likes to practice. If you're a student, the last thing you want to do is go home and pull out your machine. If you're a working reporter, all you want to do is relax and not even look at your equipment after a long day of depositions or court.

But the reality is, if you don't consistently practice, you won't pass the RPR.

There is a right and wrong way to practice though. 30 minutes of effective practice is better than a whole hour of a bad practice session.

What's the difference between good and bad practicing? A bad practice session is when you're not really into it and you're just doing it because you have to. A good practice session is when you're stretching and reaching to get every word and putting your all into your practice.

So how can you effectively practice? Set aside a specific amount of time a day to practice. Get rid of any distractions. This means turn off your cell phone, tell everyone to not bother you, and close your door.

There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.

When I was speedbuilding, I left my machine set up at home. It gave me no excuse not to sit down and catch a quick 10 to 15 minute practice session. On most days I didn't have an hour or more stretch of time to devote to practicing. Breaking it up into smaller segments helped me get in much-needed practice time.

Although using briefs does make your writing shorter, learning them right before the test is disastrous. Briefs help you write faster only if they come automatically, and for them to come automatically takes time.

I learned this the hard way. I thought I'd be slick and learn a bunch of new briefs because I thought I'd get faster. I actually did worse during my practice sessions because I was trying to remember my new briefs.

Speed Practice Tips:

Don't omit any!
  • Practice at least 20 wpm above the required speed. This means 200 lit, 220 JC, and 240 Q&A
  • Practice everyday, several times a day if possible
  • Remove distractions (phone, kids, spouse)
  • Don't try to learn new briefs in an attempt to write faster. It will slow you down in the long run.
  • No matter how bad you're doing, strain to get every word.
  • Take an RPR practice test once a week to judge your progress.

Briefs can be a lifesaver, but learn them after you've taken your test.

It's important to practice at speeds higher than what is required by the test. That way when it's test day, everything will feel slow and gettable.

A good number is about 20 wpm faster that the RPR speeds. Some people think practicing at insanely high speeds, such as 300 wpm, is the key to building speed. I tried that method, but my accuracy suffered, even when I wrote at slower speeds. 240 was the sweet spot for me.

300 wpm may work for you, if so, go for it. But don't be afraid to bring it down a notch if you have to.

Also, don't use RPR practice tests for practice material. For one, they're too slow and you won't build speed. Instead, use them as a guide to judge where you are. Take a practice test once a week. You'll be surprised at how much better you're getting from week to week.

Yeah, practicing isn't fun and nobody likes to do it, but it's a necessary evil when it comes to taking the RPR and passing it.

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What Do I Need to Bring to the RPR Exam?

Be sure to bring your own equipment and supplies because the exam site will not provide anything.
  • Steno machine
  • Laptop
  • Printer
  • Paper
  • Computer and printer cables
  • Dictionary
  • Red Pen
  • Extension cord

 

How Many Errors are Allowed on the RPR?

  • Literary: 45 errors
  • Jury Charge: 50 errors
  • Testimony: 57 errors

 

Help Me! It's Exam Day!

Follow these tips for a stress-free test.

Okay. It's exam day. It's time to freak out, right? Nope! You've practiced for weeks and your nerves are pretty much under control. It's all good!

  • Arrive early for your exam. This gives you plenty of time to get your equipment set up and make sure everything is working properly.
  • It's good to be friendly, but don't talk much to other test-takers on exam day. Everyone will be talking about how nervous they are and how they're worried they won't pass. Avoid negativity!
  • Don't do any last-minute practicing. Because, really, if you don't have it by now, you're not going to get it. Wait for the one minute of warm up before you begin to write.
  • After the test, transcribe all legs you sat for, even if you think you bombed it. You probably did better than you think, and if you turn nothing in you're guaranteed to bomb it.

It's finally over! Now comes the hard part: waiting 4-6 weeks to receive your results in the mail. Congratulations, you passed!

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Updated: 07/03/2014, AbbyFitz
 
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AbbyFitz on 01/15/2014

Thank you!

ologsinquito on 01/15/2014

This is really good information, so I'm pinning it to my Things You Really Need to Know board.

AbbyFitz on 11/10/2013

I'm glad for you. They can be tough. Thanks for reading!

WordChazer on 11/10/2013

Reminds me of the days I used to sit for shorthand exams. Thankfully for me no longer required!

AbbyFitz on 11/10/2013

Thank you! And thanks for reading my article even though you're not familiar with reporting :)

ologsinquito on 11/10/2013

I think you've covered just about anything you'd need to know about passing the exam. Great article.

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