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Advice for Students

Shorthand for perfectionists

19 July 2022
Shorthand by Rowenna Hoskin
Shorthand by Rowenna Hoskin

Welcome to MA News Journalism, get ready to learn a new language! 100wpm Shorthand – the hardest exam I have ever passed, and the most rewarding for that reason.

We were told to start learning shorthand during the summer before the MA News Journalism course began. We had to get to chapter 10 before the course began and have the basic theory down.

I have to admit that while I did start, I was so obsessed with getting the outlines perfect every time that I did not get to chapter 10 by the time our shorthand classes began.

What I did not take into account was the fact that as you speed build, this neatness has to be sacrificed. I wish I had learnt this earlier.

Here are my tips if you are a perfectionist and are trying to learn shorthand.

  • When you are working at low speeds such as 60 word per minute, you have time to draw each outline perfectly. Your brain has longer to put together the components of the word. But at higher speeds this is not possible. When drilling outlines (repeatedly drawing them out to add them to your muscle memory) practise writing them as fast as you can and make sure you can still read it back as the word. The earlier you get your brain to connect to quickness as opposed neatness, the easier speed building will be.


  • If you find yourself stuck at 70wpm or 8-wpm and you are unable to get any faster – this is normal. You have hit a bit of a wall; it happens for everyone. You just have to keep practising every day and don’t give up. Perfectionists often find it difficult to persevere if we aren’t instantly amazing at something, but shorthand is not a natural skill. You just have to visualise the end point of passing.


  • Get into a rhythm. If you are struggling to motivate yourself because you feel hopeless, get into a pattern of doing shorthand for an hour a day at a certain time. I would put it off at the beginning of the year because I just couldn’t get my head around it and there always seemed to be more important things to do. This meant I suffered at the end of the year as I still had not passed the exam. Even if you just do five minutes, its better than nothing. You have to keep your brain thinking in shorthand, miss a day and you will become rusty and halt your progress.


  • Don’t prioritise drilling over passages. The temptation is to practise shorthand only by drilling the common word groupings or special outlines at the start. I found that because I found writing it myself so difficult, I tricked myself into thinking I was practising by just copying the outlines down over and over. This was not productive. Do one passage and then its transcription every day. If you miss chunks, don’t be disheartened. Transcribe what you do have. Don’t focus only on speed building either, make sure you transcribe it every time too.


  • Do not go back and correct and outline during the audio. Give yourself margins on the page, note the outline that you wrote incorrectly, and correct it in the margin in the gap between the lady speaking.

Shorthand is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but it does get easier. It never gets less frustrating, but it becomes possible. You just have to plug away at it every day. Take it seriously from day one and you will be fine.