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Training Matters: Top tips for working distance learners

Imogen BlakeImogen Blake is a newly-qualified senior reporter at the Ham & High. The most recent recipient of the Ted Bottomley Award for her performance in the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ) media law and practice exam, she achieved the gold standard NCTJ Diploma in Journalism and passed the NQJ on her first attempt within two years of working for the paper. We asked her for her top tips for working distance learners. This is what she had to say…

Last week brought ecstatic news: I have been made a senior reporter.

It is the culmination of a little less than a year’s hard work to study for and pass two sets of tough NCTJ exams, all while working as a trainee reporter.

From my very first day on the job, I loved working as a trainee reporter on a newspaper I was proud to write for.

But I knew I could not progress any further there without overcoming one big problem: in order to take my seniors (NQJ), I first needed to gain the preliminary NCTJ Diploma in Journalism.

It was a daunting prospect, to study for and take all those exams while working full-time in a busy newsroom.

However, the end goal of becoming a senior reporter was all I needed to spur myself on, and enrol for the diploma.

It certainly wasn’t easy, and at times I often wondered: why am I putting myself through this?
But last week has proved that it was all worth it.
These are just a few tips I picked up this year, which really helped me to stay focused and pass those exams.

1. Get organised. When you first sign up, it’s important to take a few hours to carefully look at how many exams you will be taking and what examiners are asking of students. I went over marking guides with a fine toothcomb and made lists of all the subject areas that students would likely be tested on. It is harder to revise for reporting exams, because you can’t just learn a list of facts. But you can still prepare: read a selection of newspapers every day to learn news-writing techniques, and practise shorthand until your hand aches.

2. Be prepared to make sacrifices. No-one likes to hit the books after a long shift at work or spend their weekends cooped up inside with a copy of McNae’s, but it’s the only way to pass those exams. I told my friends that my social life was over for a couple of months before both my diploma and my NQJ, and they understood. But do give yourself breaks. Otherwise, you will just burn out.

3. Ask for help from friends. One way of still being able to socialise while distance learning is to ask your loved ones to test you on your revision. It will give you confidence that you know the subject inside out – or reveal which areas you need to focus on.

4. Attend a refresher course. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. I attended refresher courses at the NCTJ headquarters before both my diploma exams and my NQJ exams. The tutors have years of experience and can offer great advice for each section. I can honestly say I don’t think I would have passed either set of exams without attending these courses.

5. Persevere. Things can look pretty bleak at times, and you will feel like giving up on more than one occasion. But it will be well worth the frustration, tears and exhaustion. I can attest to that!

The deadline to enrol for the November NQJ is Friday, 25 September. The next NQJ refresher courses are running in October.