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Words by Donna Kanabay Harvey, RMR, CRR; XHTML by G.D. Warner

Speedbuilding With Accuracy

Tips From a Veteran Reporter


Donna Kanabay, RMR, CRR, FPR, is a second generation reporter in St. Petersburg, Florida, who learned how to pass tests from her wonderful mentors, her parents, who founded the family business in 1955. She and her court-reporter sister now own the company and continue to work as reporters while running the business.

In this article (originally published in the May 1999 issue of the JCR), Donna tells us about the method she used to regain her speed after modifying her non-computer-compatible theory for realtime, taking as a blueprint those dreaded childhood piano lessons!

So, read, heed, and enjoy!

Thanks, Donna!


Recently, in VRForum, the question was asked, "How can I build my speed without losing accuracy?" I discovered the answer to that question while preparing for the 1997 CRR test.

I am not a teacher, nor even a speed contest aficionado, just a court reporter of 22 years' experience. I learned steno at my parents' knees, and, of course, their theory and mine were pre-CAT. When CAT first invaded my life, and then realtime, I was forced, like so many of MY peers, to start over and throw out much of what I had learned over the years.

By the time I was well into the process, the memory of my triumphs in attaining the CP and CM fairly early in my career was dim, as my fingers treacherously slammed over my keyboard day after agonizing day. After 20 years of confidence and competence, I had begun to question my abilities. I had lost my speed - really lost it - as I revamped my "theory" over and over again to strive for clean realtime. And to add insult to injury, my writing had become just plain sloppy.

In January 1997, a good friend challenged me to go after the CRR at the national convention being held in Orlando, Fla. I accepted the challenge, since that was a goal I'd had for several years. As I began to prepare myself and practice, I eventually hit on a system that helped me tremendously.

A Methodical Approach

Like so many of my generation (and, sadly, like few of the next), I was forced to take piano lessons as a child. I soon developed a love-hate relationship with the instrument; however, the lessons learned at the piano keyboard gave me a solid background to transfer to the steno keyboard. I approached my practice sessions methodically, just as, many years before, I had applied myself to mastering a difficult piece of music.

The first thing I did with a new practice take was to play it on my variable-speed transcriber at the slowest speed and write the five-minute take as cleanly as possible, even stopping and rewinding the section as necessary to get the entire text. I scoped it, filled in nontrans and then printed it. Then I wrote it from the printout, taking my time to highlight tricky passages and fingertanglers. I also spent a lot of time going through theory books, old and new, and the CRForum "How Do You Write" messages I had archived to come up with shorter ways to write common or difficult words and phrases.

Years before, I had bought into the myth that to write realtime, you must write everything out, and I had abandoned and lost many of my shortcuts as a result. As time passed, I came to believe that that misconception, in itself, was responsible for a lot of my troubles. (I found the most helpful information in a 30 year-old text, "A Stroke in Time," by Paul Simone, learning and, in some cases, relearning finger combinations and shortcuts that still work today even though they've been largely abandoned by some modern theories. I think it would benefit our schools to go back and reincorporate a lot of those old theories into their teaching. Thar's gold in them thar hills!)

I wrote and rewrote the take from the printout until I was very comfortable with the changes I was incorporating in my writing. Then I started writing it from the tape as slowly as my recorder would play, keeping the printout in front of me for as long as I needed it, until the strokes were second nature.

Next, I gradually increased the speed on the transcriber until I was actually writing it somewhat above the target speed. (I think this is very much like a music student working through a new piece, as I vividly remember playing stanza by stanza, then line by line, often one hand at a time, until I was able to mesh it smoothly together.) Sometimes I would spend an entire day on just one take. But at the end of the day, I could write that take at any speed in realtime.

Tools and Drills

I alternated these practice sessions with some intense finger exercises, and I soon settled on the Phoenix drills* as being the most productive use of my time. I recommend these deceptively easy drills without hesitation and credit them with much of my success not only at the test, but also in my everyday writing. For my practice material, I used RPR tapes, all three legs, as well as CRR practice tapes. I saved most of the actual CRR tapes till later in the process, because I wanted to keep them "fresh" to challenge myself as test time drew closer.

By the time I packed for Orlando, I was writing the CRR exams above target speed, and I felt very confident and comfortable. This margin of speed above the target enabled me to deal with test nerves effectively. And even when I lost my concentration momentarily, I was able to recover quickly. I walked into the testing room knowing without a doubt that I would ace the test on my first attempt, so it was no surprise when I received notification six weeks later that I had indeed passed.

Though a mere eight months previously I had begun to question my continued success in my chosen career, I was able, through this experience, to put such questions to rest. I continue to use the Phoenix drills and this practice technique to keep myself sharp and to challenge myself to get back up to "fighting speed" (Merit level). And when the new, faster CRR test comes along, if I've stuck to my guns, I'm pretty darned sure I'll ace it as well! Gosh, I'd better go practice.

Yes, I modified the instructions for the Phoenix exercises substantially. Really stretching me back 11 years, but I definitely did not use a metronome. If I mistroked on an exercise, I stopped and went back to the beginning of the exercise. I think I only got as far as maybe a dozen of the hundreds of exercises in the book. I did go sequentially, starting with #1, and didn't skip around. I vowed to myself when it was all over and I had a life again I would come back and do more of them. Ha!