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Seniors exam pass rate falls to ‘disappointing’ 42pc

The pass rate for the journalists’ National Certificate Examination has fallen again to a “disappointing” 42pc – with examiners blaming a lack of accuracy for the low figure.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists today revealed just 42 out of the 100 reporters who sat the exam in July had achieved senior status – making it the lowest pass rate in the past three years.

It compares with a figure of 48pc from the NCE in July last year when 80 trainee reporters sat the exam and 38 of them had success.

At the last exam in March this year, 45pc of the 107 entrants passed all four parts of the exam to become senior reporters.

The report by chief examiner Steve Nelson from the July exams said the lack of accuracy was a key factor in the low pass rate and questioned whether trainees were receiving enough support from their newspapers.

He said: “It may well be that some trainees are not receiving enough guidance in the office because of reduced headcounts in editorial, but this does not account for the sort of inaccuracies that some markers came across.

“‘Carelessness costs marks’ and ‘poor shorthand was evident in all but a handful of papers’ were just two of the comments from examiners that went some way to explaining the low pass rate.”

The pass rate for each section was 53pc for newspaper practice, 46pc for news report, 62pc for news interview and 96pc for logbook.

Out of the first-time candidates sitting the exam, just 38pc passed.

Those who passed the NCE are:

Jennifer Baker Cambridge News
Alexander Britton Nottingham Evening Post
Jamie Brooks Chard & Ilminster News
Laura Mary Elvin Leicester Mercury
Andrew Fitchett Bury Free Press
Katy Forrester Hull Daily Mail
Ellen Frampton Biggleswade Chronicle
Edward Gent Courier Media Group
Alasdair Gill Evening Telegraph (Dundee)
Nicholas Robert Gill The Comet
Amanda Hall Maidenhead Advertiser
Alice Hemmings Courier Media Group
Nicola Hine Maidenhead Advertiser
Ellie Hunter Derbyshire Times
Daniel Jaines Boston Standard
Ryan Jennings Colchester Evening Gazette
Thomas Edward Jennings Oxford Mail
Gareth Jones North West Evening Mail
Melissa Simone Jones South Wales Argus
Stephanie Jones-Berry Surrey Advertiser
Helen Kreft Burton Daily Mail
Emma Lidiard Westmorland Gazette
Daniel Longhorn Hull Daily Mail
Chris Madden Courier Media Group
Joseph Masi Shropshire Star
Emma Louise Matthews Nottingham Evening Post
Lauren May Epsom Guardian
Ellie Newton-Syms Hull Daily Mail
Hayley O’Keeffe Bedfordshire Times & Citizen
Robert James Owen Penarth Times
Rhianne Lucy Pope Oxford Mail
Lee-Ann Richards Romford Recorder
Laura Routledge Reading Chronicle
Kirsty Ann Smyth Berwickshire News
Robert Smyth Burton Daily Mail
Georga Spottiswood Sunderland Echo
Amy Taylor Surrey Advertiser
Hannah Upton Westmorland Gazette
Neil Gareth Vowles The Argus (Brighton)
Tom Wilson Cambrian News
Alexandra Winter Gazette & Herald (Wiltshire)
Benjamin Woods Eastern Daily Press (Norwich)


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  • August 9, 2012 at 11:06 am

    When so many candidates are failing – and many of them perfectly good journalists – it’s not enough to just blame those taking the exams.

    Falling numbers in newsrooms means trainees get less support than ever.
    Are the ever popular university degrees giving enough of a grounding?
    More importantly, is the NCE up to date?
    I suspect not as it still seems obsessed with tempting trainees into mistakes rather than giving them a chance to show what they can do.

    But when it has such a high number of retakes and charges nearly £40 for a fail report for each exam, is it in their interests to pass more trainees?

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  • August 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Congratulations to my candidates who passed.
    No report from the NCTJ on the sub editing exam or sports reporting NCE to help candidates and their trainers. The fall in the number of candidates sitting the exam, the subs and sports reporters who have to wait longer than 18 months to sit the exam because of a lack of candidates, and the general disorganisation surrounding the NCE – especially for sub editors – this time do not bode well. While I feel a formal exam process is vital to promote a high standard among journalists, it is not a cheap process and it takes some doing to defend the expenditure in this economic climate and is not made any easier by events surrounding July’s exams.

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  • August 9, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Having had some recent experience of the NCE marking guide, I would question the NCTJ’s definition of accuracy. Of course mistakes should be penalised but candidates are routinely marked down for minor omissions which no news editor/reader would even notice.

    I passed the exam ten years ago and have experience at various levels of the industry yet doubt I would pass nowadays.

    The pass rate has always been low and the NCE sets, rightly, a high bar. But it has already become irrelevant at a national level. It’s surely only a matter of time until regional editors begin to wonder why more than half of trainees, who they trust to do the job day in, day out, are being written off as incompetent.

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  • August 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

    It does not seem to add up that the report is blaming the poor NCE pass rate on a lack of support and training in newsrooms when there was a 96% pass rate for the logbook submissions.

    Surely if reporters are regularly overlooking inaccuracies in their copy, and not learning from their mistakes, their original copy would reflect this and the pass rate for logbooks would also be low?

    I suspect it is more a case of reporters buckling under pressure on the day because of the intense environment and the cost and infrequency of re-sits.

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  • August 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    My group had three trainees in this round of exams, two first time passes and one first time missed by a whisker. Well done and commiserations to them. All three training records passed with flying colours and were well-prepared for the big day.

    I’ve been involved in training and preparing people for NCE exams for 20 years and more and the simple truth is that most failures are down to a lack of preparation for the exam itself, which could be blamed on some employers but is just as much an issue for candidates. You wouldn’t take a driving test without working on the specifics, would you?

    The biggest issues I’ve noticed when putting trainees through mock exams are the lack of confidence when it comes to face to face interviewing, probably because they get too little of it back at base, and a tendency to panic when people realise they’ve only got one chance to get it right.

    The NCE has developed over the years and is still a good all round test of ability. However, I think the subbing qualification should be scrapped with part of it built into the main exam and the sports track done away with as well. These days everyone needs to be a sub and a properly trained hack can work just as well on sport as on news – this qualification was only ever set up to meet the needs of students, not the industry.

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  • August 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    It is simply not true that “most failures are down to a lack of preparation for the exam”.

    One past paper I’ve seen – a speech about an airport campaign group -included the “must have” point that the group was based two miles from the airport. Say the village was close to the airport or neighbouring the airport would have resulted in the candidate being severely penalised.

    How does this represent the reality of the newsroom?

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  • August 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Quite agree Journoboy
    The NCTJ has some very strange ideas when it comes to what constitutes a “must have” quote.
    These things are a matter of opinion, and journos should not be penalised for that. Facts are another matter…

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  • August 10, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I passed my NCE at the first attempt 4 years ago.

    The best advice i got was to write the most boring story you can think of for the interview and the press release based exercises.

    Just put in facts and write it almost like a police report.

    There are no marks for how well it is written or how interesting it is just what is in there.

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  • August 10, 2012 at 10:42 am

    It is completly and utterly unfair to blame the NCE for the low pass rates.
    If the high standards of the NCE are allowed to fall further it will be completly devalued as a qualification.
    Comments above regarding “must have” quotes and boring stories are simply not accurate.
    The examiners want trainees to show they can write a reasonable story with accuracy regarding names, facts, quotes etc.
    Is that too much to expect from journalists?
    Claims that “candidates are routinely marked down for minor omissions which no news editor/reader would even notice” may be correct but examiners do take an overall approach to marking. A well written story with a minor factual error will pass.
    If you write a story and get one of the major names wrong you will fail – as you should.
    We have seen standards of academic qualifications be lowered over the years.
    If the NCE adopts this approach, the industry will be in even more trouble than it is now.

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  • August 10, 2012 at 11:04 am

    It is interesting to note Newsquest’s pass rate is substantially higher than the norm – and Newsquest is no stranger to the cuts editorial departments have suffered.
    However, it still gives all trainees pre-exam training at specific courses.
    The NCE is not the problem, newspaper groups which do not invest in the training of their staff are.

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  • August 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Some might say that with fewer trainees than ever sitting the exam, the NCTJ is keen to claw back as much revenue as possible through retakes to prop up its finances.

    Trainers also have a vested interest in the “prepare properly for the exam” line. Personally I don’t care how well prepared for an exam somebody is – more how well they can actually do the job.

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  • August 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Arealcynic – well if someone is properly prepared to do the job they will be able to interview properly, write a proper news story with accurate facts, take a proper note of what has been said which will stand up in court etc. They should easily be able to pass the exam.
    Where is the problem?

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  • August 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    The problem is, that is not what it takes to pass the exam.

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  • August 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Aman – I take exception to your comments about it being in the interests of the NCTJ to fail papers because of the additional fees the re-sits attract. As a marker I know from experience that there is no agenda when it comes to passing and failing exam papers: all the markers I have encountered take their role very seriously and the amount of money they are paid is not a consideration. As someone who still works in a busy newsroom and who spent six years teaching journalism in university, I don’t think I can be accused of being out of touch. My experience is that many of the young people who are coming into the profession barely know what a proper noun is, often because their English teacher didn’t know either and their college tutor never bothered to correct their grammar. The papers that fail are just not good enough, certainly by my standards and by those of the other experienced journalists who mark alongside me. It is also interesting to note that the feedback we get from university tutors is often that we mark too leniently. I suspect, bearing in mind the comments above, that we are probably getting it right. You can’t please all the people …

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  • August 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Sorry guys. It’s not just juniors making mistakes. Reporters are now subs, secretaries, snappers, layout bods, picture downloaders, shape fillers, headline writers, web slot fillers, tweeters, vox pop fillers. (at no extra money).
    All highly distracting from their real purpose and leading to mistakes by juniors and seniors alike. And no-one much to correct them now!

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