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July NCE: What the examiners said

A lack of shorthand practice let down some candidates in the news report exam according to the examiners’ report on the July NCE published today.

But trainees were also praised for their “sound grasp” of what can be published and what would create legal difficulties in the newspaper practice section of the exam.

Of the 117 hopefuls, 74 passed all four sections – News Interview, News Report, Newspaper Practice and Logbook – to become senior reporters.

Here’s our at-a-glance guide to each section of the test and what the examiners thought of the candidates.

News Interview

Candidates: 85
Passed: 60
Pass rate: 70pc

The News Interview centred on a breaking news story about an elderly couple who died following an arson attack on their flat.

Candidates were asked to write a story for immediate publication on the Duddleston News website.

They were set the task of interviewing the ‘detective chief inspector’ who added vivid detail and evocative quotes about what had happened prior to the incident, and how the couple were rescued and subsequently died.

The examiners said: “The aim for candidates, as always, was to conduct a thorough interview and gather enough information to write a vigorous and well-balanced story. Candidates who used quotes to add pace and rhythm to their stories received extra marks.”

News Report

Candidates: 93
Passed: 62
Pass rate: 66pc

In the news report exam, the subject was ‘tombstoning’ – a sport that involves jumping or diving into the sea from tall structures or cliffs.

The story centred on a campaign to stop tombstoners with the slogan: ‘Stay Alive – Don’t Jump or Dive.’

Although those re-sitting the exam handled the story well, the examiners were disappointed with the new candidates’ results – a 41pc pass rate.

Examiners believed there had been a lack of preparation from candidates, who appeared to struggle with both the format and a lack of shorthand practice.

The examiners said: “It cannot be stressed strongly enough that candidates need to be able to take notes comfortably at 100 wpm and accurately record short bursts of speech at up to 120 wpm.”

However, they said there were “a large proportion of good, sound stories written with news sense and flair.”

Newspaper Practice

Candidates: 82
Passed: 62
Pass rate: 75pc

Most candidates in the newspaper practice section chose a question focusing on a police press conference for part A, the law section of the paper.

The examiners said they showed a “sound grasp” of what can be published, and what would create legal difficulties.

The papers submitted for the newspaper practice area of the exam were singled out for special praise by the examiners.

In their report examiners said: “The overall standard for the newspaper practice exams was very high indeed, with some of the best papers examiners have seen in a long time.”


Candidates: 41
Passed: 41
Pass rate: 100pc

The perfect score in the logbook section of the exam equalled the 100pc pass rate from the July 2008 after a slight dip to 96pc last July.

The examiners felt that there was a significant improvement in the presentation of what was a “strong selection” of logbooks.


Editor (13/08/2010 14:18:46)
As a participant in the exam day I find it surprising that 25 people failed the interview. With every passing exam the interview gets easier and easier for the candidates. Having been interviewed by five students taking part I thought that only an imbecile could fail it. It’s worrying that we have so many who did – and even more worrying that the test standard is being set so low.

Justified Pessamism (13/08/2010 15:30:55)
But unfair Editor. Looking back at my NCE now I wonder what all the fuss was about, but on exam day the stress can just get to some very capable candidiates.

Mm (16/08/2010 10:09:27)
I think possibly Editor is missing the fact that candidates are not marked on their interview, they’re marked on their stories, which are very strictly limited by word-count. They can also have a substantial proportion of their marks capped at less than the pass mark if they fail to include just one of what the examiners deem “vital” pieces of information. The rules for choosing these are not always obvious and candidates who write to their own newspaper style rather than trying to divine what the NCTJ markers think they should write will often end up penalised.

Cleland Thom (16/08/2010 10:26:13)
I helped prepared a couple of the ‘imbeciles’ who failed the interview, and can vouch for the fact they are highly competent and professional reporters. Sadly, though, some people don’t perform well in exams, – and branding them as ‘imbeciles’ might make ‘Editor’ feel important, but doesn’t actually help their confidence for the re-sit.

Bob (16/08/2010 14:01:43)
There was a reason so many people took the first law question – it was one of the most straightforward the examiners have set for years. This might also explain the higher than normal pass rate in newspaper practice. If “dumbing down” is the only way to increase pass rates the NCE will soon become a worthless qualification.