Q: GABY! How fun to meet our local court reporting phenom! I’ve heard a lot about you.
A: Thank you, Jan. It’s nice to meet you as well.
Q: It’s not every day that someone blows through their speeds in six months. In fact, it’s a rare feat. Maybe you don’t even realize how rare!
A: I have been told I got through the speeds fairly efficiently.
Q: That gives new meaning to “putting it mildly”! Well, Gaby, I’m excited to hear about your reporting school journey… and since it is the holiday season, my fingers are crossed for the gift of a few of your best speed-building secrets. But no pressure.
A: I don’t think I have any secrets! But fire away.
Q: Gaby, you are a “pandemic high school graduate;” correct?
A: Yes, Class of 2020.
Q: Apologies on behalf of the world. COVID stole all the best things about being a Senior.
A: It impacted a lot of things, but not all were bad. I was actually really happy that traditional graduation was cancelled so that I didn’t have to walk across a huge stage in a packed auditorium, which I think would be terrifying.
Q: Are you a little on the shy side? More of a “behind-the-scenes” gal than someone who enjoys being front-and-center?
Q: Well, sorry about that. Here I am thrusting you into “The Spotlight”!
A: I’ll admit it’s not a place I ever imagined I’d be at this point.
Q: Well, there’s a reason you’re in the spotlight, Gaby. Let’s get to your story! So you graduate in June of 2020 and then start reporting school in the fall?
Q: Which school?
A: Anoka Technical College, which is located in a northern suburb of Minneapolis.
Q: That’s one of the finest programs in the country. You’re living proof of that!
A: It’s a great school. The teachers make all the difference. They all have reported so they have industry knowledge and experience, and they really care about their students’ success. They are really good people who truly want the best for us students, and I’m grateful for all they do for us.
Q: Curious as to how you found your way into court reporting, often referred to as “The Best Profession You Never Heard Of.” Did you know someone in the profession, or did someone in the legal industry encourage you to look into it, or …?
A: Getting a college education was important to me, but I wasn’t entirely feeling the typical four-year route. It seemed like most of the majors I was interested in didn’t guarantee a good income and could leave me in a lot of debt, so I started looking into two-year programs and trade schools. My mom actually had the good idea of looking into court reporting, so I did, and it seemed like my personality fit really well with the career. It seemed like the perfect job for introverts who enjoy a good story and have an interest in true crime, so I enrolled.
Q: High-five your mom for me. She nailed it! Gaby, you went from 0 words per minute to 225 WPM in less than six months. What did that timeline look like?
A: After completing theory, I tested out of my 100s in April; I passed my 120s, 140s, and 160s in June; I tested out of 180s in July, passed my 200s in August, and then tested out of 225s in September.
Q: That’s just…. That is phenomenal. At that clip, did you ever get stuck in a speed? I mean, did you ever not pass a test?
A: Oh, yes. Definitely. I failed plenty of tests and failed them hard. But I think the 180s was the first level where I failed a speed test.
Q: That’s pretty amazing. You know, I’d love to see the word “failed” eliminated from students’ vernacular, because you really aren’t failing; you’re simply not passing because the speed isn’t there yet.
A: That’s actually a good way of thinking about it.
Q: What was it like to hit your very first “speed bump” at 180?
A: Well, I had heard about The Monster That Is 180 words Per Minute, so I wasn’t all that surprised that I failed my first test in my 180s. I had tons of drops in those early tests.
A: It was actually bittersweet to finally fail – I mean, not pass a test.
Q: There you go!
A: It proved I’m human, and it took some pressure off. It was a relief to stop moving through speeds at a rate I couldn’t keep up with, and it was nice to be able to spend time with The 180 Beast and just concentrate on building more speed and not worrying about passing tests.
Q: I can only imagine the pressure you felt, and “bittersweet” is probably the perfect word for that situation. So, did 180 turn out to be your toughest speed? I note that it only took you one month to get out of it. Same with your 200s, and same with 225—the other speed often referred to as a beast.
A: Which speed wasn’t the hardest?!
Q: I can envision a lot of “Amen, Sister”s out there. Yeah, none of them are easy.
A: Even though the 180s gave me my first fails, every speed was hard, and every test felt like a fail.
I spent a lot of time practicing in Theory, and I think that helped lay a strong foundation for speed-building. I can’t tell you how much I practiced writing at 100 wpm in order to test out of it. At the 120-160 wpm level, I remember always feeling like the teachers were dictating at literally break-neck speeds. 180 was the speed that showed me I’m not a perfect writer. 200 is really just 225’s devilish little sibling, and of course 225 is like the final circle in the court reporting school inferno. So every speed was difficult, and almost every time I took a test I genuinely felt like I wouldn’t pass.
I guess technically 180 was the hardest, but trust me when I say none of the other speeds were child’s play.
Q: You got way out ahead of your coursework by flying through your speeds. You must have curriculum you still need to finish before you can graduate?
A: Yes, I have a lot of classes I need to take and pass. If all goes according to plan, I’ll graduate in May.
Q: Currently are you working on speed-building, or are you just trying to maintain 225 while you finish your coursework?
A: I’m doing speed drills every day at 240 wpm. I’m definitely not writing at 240, but that’s the speed I’m practicing at every day.
Q: I’m sure it won’t be too long before you are writing at 240… and beyond! Can you give us any tips, tricks or secrets to building speed?
A: If there’s a secret to it, I’d like to know it. For me, it all comes down to practicing effectively. And when it comes to testing, your doubts are often your biggest obstacles. I’d argue that court reporting school breaks down to about 50% skill and 50% mental strength. Even if you’ve got the skill, if you can’t get over your fear of failure, you won’t move forward very quickly.
Q: I wanted to ask you about that, Gaby. I was wondering if someone with your great success at conquering speed levels ever found herself struggling with testing anxiety.
A: I’m not sure it’s possible to be a court reporting student and not experience testing anxiety. I’ve definitely experienced shaking or paralyzed fingers on test days, and I would just feel panicked. So to combat that, I play little mind games on myself. Many times I remember silently yelling at my fingers to get moving, or yelling at my head to calm down.
Q: Hey–whatever works, and that obviously did. So you would mentally yell at yourself to sort of “snap out of it”?
Q: What else worked for you?
A: Sometimes, instead of living in the reality that I’m taking a test, I dumb it down and tell myself, “I’m not taking a test; the teacher is just talking right now. Not dictating; talking. Chatting, even.” Sometimes I literally lie to myself: “Wow, they’re talking really slow today! I can easily write at this speed.” When I do this, sometimes it really seems like my teachers start to talk slower, and then I write better. It’s like my ears believe my brain’s lies. It sounds weird, and it is, but it really helped ease my anxiety.
Q: So instead of the self-talk being “I’m not feeling it today,” or, “This seems super fast,” you essentially do just the opposite.
A: Yes. So much of it is in your head, thus the mind games.
Q: Well, the mind is a powerful thing. The old “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right” theory. Gaby, what do you do to unwind and blow off a little steam as a student?
A: Watching YouTube or Netflix is a great way for me to unwind because it doesn’t take any brain power.
Q: Do you have hobbies? Are you into sports? Are you competitive?
A: I don’t think I have a competitive bone in my body, actually. Not into sports at all. I love to draw, paint, write, and needle felt. And if the creative juices aren’t flowing, I just opt for something simple, like reading.
Q: Reading should be on every student’s list of things to do to destress. I was wondering if you’d ever consider competing in the national speed contests—after you just got through telling me you are not at all competitive! But you clearly have the talent to build to contest-level speeds.
A: Funny you should mention that because my teacher brought that up when I passed my last 225 test. As I said, I’m not the competitive type, but I may give it a try just for fun; just to say I did it.
Q: Heck, you just might win it! Gaby, thank you for being so patient with me as I’ve admittedly tried to pick your brain to find out what makes a Steno Phenom tick. Let me throw one last question your way. Have you given thought to what you want to do when you graduate next May? Are you thinking Freelance? Official? CART/Captioning?
A: I’m leaning toward an officialship. The predictable routine, financial stability and the benefits really appeal to me.
Q: It’s a great career choice where skilled reporters are desperately needed. Gaby, thanks for your time, and by the way, CONGRATULATIONS on being honored with the 2021 Willard Braun Student of the Year Award. That’s a really big deal here in Minnesota.
A: Thank you very much.
Q: Best of luck to you with the rest of your schooling. Keep in touch! Happy New Year!
A: Thanks, Jan! Happy New Year to you as well.