Benchmarking your Steno Progress

My score on Angry Zombie Bird Farm is always above 1,250,000 on Level One.

My weight has been 165 since high school.

Graph going up

I’m going up, up, up.

My checking account low-balance alarm goes off if the balance drops below $500.

As long as my weight doesn’t rise above 165, my score doesn’t drop below 1.25 million and my checking account remains above $500, I am doing fine.

Those three things are examples of benchmarks.  We can adapt and use them effectively in our stenographic journey to court reporting success.

How?  Well, brown cow, I’ll show you how — now.

Take any drill.  Do it.  Count the errors.  Do it again.

Did your score improve?  If not, why not.  There will rarely be a dramatic increase, but there should be an improvement.

Try something different with the drill.  Do it slower.  Do it faster.  Create a list of terms from the drill and practice them.  Do a different drill to regain clarity, speed, etc.

Then do the first drill once again.  Did your score improve?  Hooray, if it did.  If it did not, then you still have adjustments to make.

Your drills should be helping you.  If you aren’t seeing improvement, then you should adjust the way you practice.

In coming posts, I’ll present different ways to benchmark or assess your progress.

Steve Shastay

The Steno Rebel


Words that end in LK

I called her Ms. Klim.  She was a transfer student from another court reporting school.  Instead of doing two strokes for the word “milk,” she would stroke the outline backwards in one stroke.  Her outline of KLIM solved a small, but irritating, problem.  I have no idea where she got this outline.   I admire whoever came up with this unique solution.

I imagine that all reporters chafe at using two strokes for any one syllable word, such as “Gwen,” “golf,” and the aforementioned “milk.”

“Milk” doesn’t show up very much.  In fact, there are comparatively few words that end in LK in the English language.   A few of them are very popular; so we definitely need easy solutions for them.  Many of the others can be briefed the same way as the popular ones.  The few remaining words are unpopular and probably should be stroked out to avoid any ambiguity as to whether the speaker really used such an unpopular word.

Let’s break it down.

There are only three really popular words:  “walk,” “talk,” and “folk.”  Luckily, these words can be easily one-stroked with WAUK, TAUK, and FOEK.  If you use different strokes, that’s fine, but your strokes should be extremely easy.

Here is the entire list of one-syllable words that end in LK:  baulk, caulk, chalk, sculk, skulk, stalk, whelk, balk, bilk, bulk, calk, folk, holk, hulk, milk, silk, sulk, talk, walk, yelk, yolk.  Many of these words are variant spellings or are very unpopular words.

Many of the one-syllable words can be briefed by using the same patterns that are used to brief “walk,” “talk,” and “folk.”  Of the ones that are left,  I would like a brief form for “milk,” “silk,” “sulk,” and “bilk.”  If I can find an easy outline (easy to remember, easy to write), then I will adopt it.  If not, then I will use a Job Brief if such terms are popular in a particular job, and otherwise, I’ll use my two-stroke outlines for the occasional occurrence.

Remember Ms. Klim?  She could write all of these words with her backward pattern:  Milk KLIM; silk KLIS, sulk KLUS and bilk KLIB.  That pattern does not work for me.  It is easy to stroke, but it is not easy to remember.  She has her solution; I have mine.

All two-syllable words that end in LK are built off of the one-syllable words.  The only two-syllable word that is popular is “sidewalk.”  That word can be easily briefed by taking your “walk” outline and putting an S in front of it.  My outline is SWAUK.

Here is the list of two-syllable words: beanstalk, boardwalk, cornstalk, crosstalk, footstalk, leafstalk, rootstalk, sleepwalk, spacewalk, townsfolk, womenfolk, cakewalk, duckwalk, eyestalk, foremilk, kinsfolk, moonwalk, overmilk, overtalk, racewalk, ropewalk, shoptalk, sidewalk, townfolk, workfolk, menfolk, catwalk, jaywalk, kinfolk, outbulk, outsulk, outtalk, outwalk, skywalk, bytalk, uptalk.

Some of these words are very rare and may not be in a normal dictionary.  An eyestalk is the part of the stalk that contains the actual eye for certain sea critters.  Foremilk is the first milk taken.  A rootstalk is a type of plant.  A duckwalk is when you, well, walk like a duck.

Learn easy outlines for “walk,” “talk,” and “folk.”  Use similar outlines for some of the less popular words.  Learn a good basic pattern to write the rest when they occasionally show up.  Learn to use a job brief when they are popular in a particular case.

And then fuggedaboutit.




The Steno Bunny

“Paraprosdokian” is a figure of speech that surprises the reader/listener.  The beginning of a paraprosdokian leads you to a particular train of thought, but the ending turns the meaning to an entirely new direction.

Here are a couple of classic paraprosdokians:

That’s no lady; that’s my wife.  Rodney Dangerfield

I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night.  Bill Hicks

I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.  Will Rogers

In each instance, the ending is a surprise that makes you completely reevaluate the entire thing.

In a similar way, if steno students hear “ladies and …,” they are likely to pause in anticipation of a common phrase such as “ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”

But there are other possible phrases such as “ladies and gentlemen of the Senate” or “ladies and gentlemen of the prospective jury.”    If you pause on purpose so that you can use a phrase, you will often be wrong; and when you are wrong, pausing will put you needlessly behind.

But what about when you guess correct?  Don’t you get a big benefit from using the phrase?

Naaaah.  That’s rookie thinking.  If you are caught up and you pause to hear a phrase, the best you can hope for is that you can use that phrase to make up for the time you lost when you paused.

For phrase usage, a court reporting student needs only one rule:  Only use phrases if you recall the outline before it is time to begin stroking the phrase.

We play a speed game.  Any pausing for any reason is wrong.

Unless you are the Steno Bunny.

(Pause for effect)

Then  you have four paws.

Brief Families: Words that end in “spect”

Learn a good steno brief such as RPT for “respect,” and you have done well.  You have conquered a common two-stroker with a very easy brief.

But you only learned one word.A good dictionary is a friend indeed.

Learn a good family of briefs such as “words that end in ‘spect'” and you learn a good handful of very popular words with virtually the same amount of memorization.

If you know RPT is “respect,” then you should also know the outlines for “inspect,” “prospect,” “suspect,” and “disrespect.”  Those are the popular ones that can easily be briefed with an initial consonant or two and a final PT.

A bonus to families is that you may learn some of the less popular outlines that don’t deserve attention all by themselves.  So if you want, you could also come up with outlines for words like “circumspect,” “aspect,” and a couple more.

It’s a relatively small and very popular family.  Here are the only ten words that end in “spect” that you are likely to run across:

Respect, suspect, inspect, prospect — brief these very popular terms

Disrespect — brief it if you find DRPT or SDRPT to be easy strokes

Aspect, retrospect, introspect, circumspect, reinspect — brief them if you can find easy strokes and if they don’t take much time to memorize.

Don’t get fooled into thinking that you have to brief everything.  That’s foolish, and it can be quite hurtful.

The court reporting game requires that we learn to write efficiently and accurately.  If you can two-stroke something as quickly as you can brief it, then the brief isn’t giving you any speed benefit, plus it will be harder to read when you misstroke it.

You should know how to stroke all ten of these words with no trouble and you should have very quick outlines for most of them.  If that describes you, then you don’t need more work on words that end in “spect.”  There are plenty more brief families that you can work on.

Steve Shastay

Steno Rebel

Inspiration for your Perspiration (and New Year’s Resolutions)


This poem acquired its name when it was included in a book of poems.  Before that time, it was Victory is mineuntitled.  Even when the author published it in a book of his poems, it remained unchristened.  In the table of contents, the first line of the poem was used in place of a name.

Editor Arthur Quiller-Couch put a stop to that foolishness when he republished the poem.  He named it “Invictus,” which is perfect.  It means “unconquered,” and it describes the poem to a T.  The author thanks the gods for the pure will to succeed.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley 1875

A little bit of that kind of determination will go a long way in your stenography classes.  Not everything about court reporting will be easy to learn.  There will be times when you need that extra push.

You can do it.  You are the master of your fate.  You are the captain of your soul.

War Pigs

ElephantBy The Dogs of Words

Imagine that you are a mighty War Elephant.

Don’t take it personal.  Thick ankles run in our family too.

You are leading an army. In front of you lies a village protected by a huge wooden wall.  The inhabitants are showering you with arrows.  They bounce harmlessly off your heavy iron mail.  You continue to move forward.  As you near the walls, the defenders direct their weapons towards you and you alone.  The rain of arrows is intense.  When you are in range, heavy spears begin hurtling towards you.  Nothing slows your advance.  You are a War Elephant.

You reach the walls.  You put your head down and push.  The walls are made of thick tree trunks.  They give, but just a little.  You have done this before.  The walls will fall.  They always do.

Now the citizens are dropping heavy rocks from the parapets.  They hurt, but they can’t stop you.  You push.  The walls creak.  You push.  They begin to crack.  You push.  You push.  You push.

Suddenly, the most horrible sight appears in front of you.  It makes a terrifying sound.  Fear racks your body.  You have forgotten about the wall.

The defenders have lowered a War Pig.Pig

It is directly in front of your eyes.  Nothing is more terrible.  You are in total panic.  You must flee.  You must.  As you do, you trample and scatter your own men.  The entire assault dissolves into chaos.  The battle is over.  You have lost, and you have lost miserably.

This story actually played out in Edessa around 540 AD.  The attackers had one War Elephant.  The defenders successfully defended their town with one War Pig.

A War Elephant is a well-trained, heavily armored, living, breathing battering ram.  You can stop one, but most likely, you won’t.  They are too big and too strong.   Your walls will lie in ruins long before you do enough damage to stop a War Elephant.

A War Pig has no training and no armor.  A War Pig is nothing more than a frightened squealing pig.  The only advantage of a War Pig is that War Elephants are deathly afraid of them.

You thought they feared mice, didn’t you?  According to written records, War Pigs were used in more than just this one battle.  In 266 BC, the siege of Megara was broken when the War Elephants bolted at the sight of flaming War Pigs running their way.  The Romans used War Pigs (and War Rams) in 275 BC against Pyrrhus.  There are other instances.

What in all that is holy does this have to do with stenography?

You are a steno War Elephant.  You are well trained.  You are heavily-armored with techniques to keep you writing strong and clear.  The walls of your steno class cannot hold you.  You will push until they fall.  Victory will be yours.  Nothing can stop you.  Nothing.

Except a steno War Pig.

What is a steno War Pig?  It is the same thing as a real War Pig.  It is nothing.  It cannot influence your battle.  It is weak.  It is insignificant.  It has no power.

Unless you fear it.

Why do you let your test nerves control you?  You know they detract from your abilities.  You know they keep you from achieving your best score.  You know that your scores would rise without them.

Chill out, steno babies.  You’re doing it to yourselves.

What Steno Briefs Should you Learn Right Now?

As court-reporting students, you are faced with a constant flood of new outlines to learn.

Nobody knows all of them, and nobody can learn all of them right now.

And that begs the question, “What briefs should you learn right now?”

The answer is elegant and simple: learn the ones that give you the most trouble.  A word that shows up time after time after time is a better candidate to be briefed than one that appears sporadically.

Here’s an example:  Learning a brief for “record” is much more important than learning a brief for “reformation.”  “Record” is a very popularly used term.  Knowing “reformation” is nice, but it isn’t very popular and the stroke itself is probably a bit hard.  When you learn “record,” you are solving a problem that you face every day.  You can’t say that about “reformation.”

Am I saying that you should never learn a brief for “reformation”?  No, not at all.  You will probably learn it when you learn “reform,” but even “reform” is not as popular as “record.”  I would learn “reform” way down the steno avenue after I learned “record.”  As to “reformation,” I decided long ago that the brief was too hard.  I am much better off using two easy strokes, rather than one hard one.  If “reformation” was more popular, perhaps I would look for an easier brief.

What are the briefs that show up the most?  That’s fairly easy to figure out.  Review your dictations, and write down the problem words.  From that list, pick out a few of the really popular ones, and work on their outlines.

Review your drills.

Make a list of problem words.

Memorize the most popular words on your list.

I have much more detailed methods that we can talk about another day, but if you follow the simple plan that I just outlined, and you will have an effective method of memorizing briefs.

Barb DeWitt

Snake River (for the holidays), Washington