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July NQJ: Examiners pick up on poor shorthand and spelling again

penPoor shorthand has yet again been highlighted as a “key issue” after the lowest ever pass rate for the National Qualification in Journalism was recorded following July’s examinations.

The examiners’ report, compiled by the National Council for the Training and Journalists, also noted problems with spelling and story construction among some candidates in the news report exam, but praised a 100pc pass rate for the e-logbook section – the fourth in succession.

Candidates had to pass each section to achieve senior status, with 17 of the 36 candidates proving successful.

This represented a 47pc pass rate – the lowest since the NQJ was introduced in 2013.

The issue of candidates’ shorthand has recurred in examiners’ reports in recent years.

Here is a summary of the report from July’s sitting on how the candidates performed in each section:


Candidates: 30
Passed: 23
Pass rate: 77pc

The examiners said: “A pleasing set of papers, with few outright failures and a couple of excellent papers, particularly from the award-winning candidate.

“Examiners recommend that future candidates return to the latest edition of Essential Law for Journalists to brush up on defamation and contempt dangers and defences and court reporting restrictions, plus case studies.

“Regular visits to the IPSO adjudications and the Editors’ Code Book, along with the Judicial Studies Board’s Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts, would also be helpful.

“Both HoldtheFrontPage and Press Gazette cover the more important IPSO rulings and have regular law and ethics articles. Those candidates who do not attend an NQJ refresher are put at a great disadvantage.”


Candidates: 36
Passed: 17
Pass rate: 47pc

The examiners said: “The July news report exam paper detailed a story of twin brothers arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling in Peru. There is the ongoing issue with the standard of shorthand – not getting down full quotes, or not being able to read them back and guessing at the words.

“Few candidates demonstrated shorthand which was capable of coping with the 90-120wpm speech. It is essential that trainees not only get to the basic 100wpm but then work on increasing their speed to 120wpm during the training period.”

“Part A is a test of the trainee’s ability to blend existing and new information into one comprehensive story. With more stories being uploaded straight to the web and updated regularly in news rooms today, candidates must not forget the importance of being able to write one comprehensive story, telling the reader the fundamentals of the story to help them understand it.

“There was an assumption from some candidates in this exam that because the story had been broken by the nationals it was sufficient to write a story based on the speech alone. This is not the case. Candidates must be able to blend the information from the candidate’s brief with new information from the speech into one comprehensive story – they should not write an update on another media company’s story.”


Candidates: 32
Passed: 19
Pass rate: 59pc

The examiners said: “Raiders break into an auction house and steal artwork and jewellery worth £1m in an incident which lasted just 10 minutes.

“There were good quotes to be had – from the auction house boss, the police and the security company boss. There was also good background detail about Sir Henry and a full description of the items stolen and their value. However, many candidates appear to have struggled and there seemed to be a lack of attention to detail.

“It was evident that some candidates had poor shorthand and some had not read through their copy before it was submitted, therefore not spotting easily avoidable errors. Story construction needed improvement and several candidates introduced comment where it was not necessary. Spelling was also an issue.

“There were some good pieces submitted by successful candidates who showed they understood the chronology of the story and also constructed their copy so it was readable and easy to follow, containing the drama, all the relevant facts, and backed up by strong quotes.”


Candidates: 22
Passed: 22
Pass rate: 100pc

The examiners saif: “An excellent round of submissions showing that trainees have a clear grasp of what is required from the logbook key tasks.

“Examiners were delighted that with the exception of just one key task from one candidate, all logbooks were completed and submitted correctly.

“It was also pleasing to note that a far greater number of logbooks were both completed and submitted well ahead of schedule, demonstrating a greater degree of organisation among candidates.

“We would advise all those compiling a logbook to make sure that if they are unsure of anything they should seek help from their editor or trainer in the first instance, or contact the NCTJ and we will be happy to give advice ahead of submitting for marking.”


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  • August 16, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Without decrying the efforts of the NCTJ, does anyone really (I mean REALLY) care about these exams any more? Good spelling, indeed good grammar, has been obliterated by text-speak, reporters routinely use phones to record interviews and the only place you’re really going to need shorthand is either court or council. I haven’t been to either for longer than I care to remember, so this may be occurring already, but how long before everything is recorded in these two institutions as well?
    A lot of would be reporters just haven’t a clue how to write a story – and following on from commentators on a similar thread, there is increasingly less people to tell them as the ‘dinosaurs’ of this business are put out to pasture.
    Sad, but I suppose workers in the coal industry thought the same thing as their business was systematically destroyed.

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  • August 16, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Cant help but agree with “echo”. It is pretty obvious that some of the so-called content editors are not very good, or they would be picking up some of the dreadful spelling, grammar, style and construction mistakes appearing in story after story, week after week. I mean, some reporters are still writing the council ARE and the government ARE, including not only local papers but the BBC!

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