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As everybody in the room settled into their positions and got ready to take the exam, things quieted down, and my breathing became more shallow. The testing proctor gave us a sample dictation so we could get used to her voice and get a feel for the speed at which the test would be dictated. After the sample dictation I felt not quite so scared, thinking to myself, “Well, that didn’t seem to be too bad, but surely it’s going to be more difficult than that!”
Okay. It’s time now for the real thing, the 200 word per minute literary dictation in the real-time competition. “Breathe, Tammy, breathe.” My very good friend, Mike Cano, had given me that advice before the test. “Don’t forget to breathe,” he said.
The dictation started and all seemed to be going okay. I did not dare to think how good I seemed to be doing because we all know what happens when we do that. Then a word was dictated and I didn’t understand the word! “What in the world did she say?” I had a split second to figure something out, so I just finger spelled the word that I thought I heard, thinking, “Oh well, there’s a mistake for certain!” The rest of the exam seemed to “fly by” at a snail’s pace! Whew! That one was over.
Now the test that REALLY had me scared, the Q&A. Now, I must preface this by saying that I hadn’t done a lick of Q&A for, oh, probably 10 to 11 years. I did refamiliarize myself with the Q&A rhythm that I used to have, but I was certain that that “rhythm” was long gone. It had gone out the window about ten years ago, just prior to the birth of my son.
I was feeling a little less shaky after the literary dictation because I felt pretty good about how I had performed on that dictation; however, this one, Q&A, 225 words per minute… seriously? Ha! I had low expectations for how I would do. I told myself, “Well, at least you’re doing this and you can say you’ve participated in a realtime competition.” You know, one of those “Been there done that” kind of deals.
Again, a sample dictation was given so we could hear the speed and listen to the two voices that would be giving the dictation. “Breathe, Tammy, breathe.” And then the words, “Ready? Begin,” and we were off to the races. I don’t know if I had any clue as to how I had performed on this test. Truly, I don’t really even recall breathing. As I prepared the files for printing, I was trying to recall any mistakes I knew for certain that I had made and any mistakes that I possibly could have made, but my mind was a blur.
As I handed my test paper in, I sighed a big sigh of relief. “Whew! I’m done! I did it and I lived to tell about it!” I even had time to go join my husband and my son on the tour of Philadelphia!
Saturday at the luncheon, I, of course, was anxious to see if I would at least place. Given the names of the people with whom I had taken the test, I had no expectations of anything other than maybe placing. After all, THEY take the test year after year, right? They are certainly the ones that are going to do so well.
As the names were read of the people who had placed in the literary dictation, I listened. No mention of my name. “Oh, well,” I thought, “that’s okay.” Then the third and second place winners’ names were announced. Still, no mention of my name. When she said for first place in the literary there was a tie, things kind of blurred as I heard my name mentioned. “Tammy Milcowitz!” My friends at the table whooped and hollered, and my mouth fell open. No way! I made my way up to the front of the room in a daze. I couldn’t believe it!
Coming back to my table, I couldn’t suppress the smile on my face. I was so excited!
Next, the Q&A results. Again, I listened as the names were read of the people that had placed. No mention of my name. That’s okay, I tied for first in the literary. Then I heard my name mentioned as the third place winner for the Q&A! Wow! I guess I hadn’t quite lost my “rhythm” after all! I again went up to receive my award in a daze.
Upon returning to my table, I couldn’t wait for this luncheon to be over so I could call my husband and my son, who were enjoying the day at the famous Philadelphia Zoo, to tell them how I did. I wasn’t sure what was going on now, but something was being explained about the examination. I asked one of my friends what was being said, and he tried to explain to me, but I didn’t quite understand. Something about taking the total of the two tests and there being a winner or something. I didn’t know. As I settled in to try to focus on what was being said, I heard my name called again. “Tammy Milcowitz!” What? It turns out I had won the overall competition! I had a total of nine errors, three in the literary and six in the Q&A, for a total percentage of 99.583. I can’t describe the shock and amazement that I felt as I walked up yet a third time to receive my award.
The reason I have explained that whole experience to you is because that is an experience I never thought I would have. I had never taken that test before nor did I ever think that I could ever pass it. I see the same names year after year taking the test, so my thought has always been nobody else could possibly ever win that test. But I am here to tell you that you can. You don’t have to be the “Speed champion of the decade” to participate in that competition. Anybody can do it, and anybody can do well. I encourage everyone to take that step and sign up. Sign up for the state competition or sign up for the national competition, it doesn’t matter. Make it a goal and go for it. Don’t be intimidated by the process or the people. If you are writing real-time, you have the skills. Try it! You might like it, and you just might surprise yourself!
© 2013 Florida Court Reporters Association. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in the Fall, 2013 issue of FCRA Online Magazine.