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Training Matters: Top tips for November's NQJ exam

In this week’s blog, tecently-qualified senior reporters Paul Berentzen and Megan Tatum share their top tips to help trainees ace their NQJ exams.

Gazette reporter Paul BerentzenPaul Berentzen is the crime reporter at the Blackpool Gazette. He previously worked for the North-West Evening Mail, having trained for his NCTJs at News Associates Manchester. In July, Paul won three out of four awards available to NQJ candidates: the Ted Bottomley Award for media law and practice, the Esso Award for news report and the Society of Editors’ Award for the news interview.

Nobody looks forward to sitting the NQJ exams but with the right preparation at least you can make sure it is something you only have to endure once. And, trust me, it’s worth it when you pass. So, with that in mind, here are my five tips to make it memorable for the right reasons:

1. Refresher courses are not just a day off work. The 9am starts may have given me a welcome lie-in but you can learn a lot in just a few days. And realise just how much you had forgotten. A good refresher course is the perfect preparation – so make the most of it.

2. Talk to senior colleagues. If there’s someone in the office who has taken the exam recently, ask them what it was like. Everyone has different insights to offer and advice to give. It’s all good.

3. Past papers are excellent practice. The more you can lay your hands on the better. Test yourself under exam conditions and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable on the day.

4. Don’t leave everything until the last minute. Journalists like the pressure of a deadline but if I had to do it all over again, I would have started preparing sooner. The logbook takes more work than you think…

5. Don’t panic. Nerves are a great motivation to revise but they don’t help once the test paper is being handed out. I was worried I was a bit too laid back about things on the day but, as it turned out, that helped me through. After all, it’s a job you’ve been doing for months – you know you can do it.

Megan TatumMegan studied for her NCTJ Diploma in Journalism on a fast-track course with Press Association in London, and began working as a reporter with the Essex Chronicle, based in Chelmsford. After two years with the paper, she passed her NQJ exams in July 2014 and won the Newsquest Award for her e-logbook.

1. Shorthand, shorthand, and even more shorthand. You may breathe a sigh of relief the second you reach 100wpm during preliminary training but unfortunately the test of your Teeline doesn’t finish there. I would never have passed either news Interview or news report without quite a few evenings spent frantically trying to get down entire stories from a Sky News presenter, and the help of a practise CD which was kindly loaned to me by a colleague.

2. Applying your legal knowledge to real-life scenarios. The NQJ media law and practice paper exams is all about applying the law to plausible legal dilemmas you could find yourself faced with on the newsdesk. So each time such a problem arose at work I’d attempt to apply what I’d revised, it’s a real test of how much you know.

3. Be organised with your logbook. It’s really tempting to leave it until the last minute but the quality of comments your editor can provide are going to be helped hugely by him, or her, having a decent amount of time to go through all your entries.

4. Get an opportunity to try a few mock exams. I attended a refresher course a few weeks ahead of the real thing and, while pretty tiring, it was a great chance to have a go at the format of the exams before it really mattered, and have my weaknesses pointed out too of course.

5. Remember it’s something you do every day. As soon as the word ‘exam’ is attached to anything, it immediately becomes more intimidating but essentially taking notes, and interviewing people is what you’re being tested on, and it’s something we’re all pretty good at, or we wouldn’t be employed anymore.

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