Shorthand is a vital skill for journalists or anyone working in a secretarial role. It allows you to take notes quickly and accurately. Most journalism training courses will include shorthand, with tests often incredibly daunting because they are against the clock. Calculating your shorthand dictation speed before the test can ease nerves and in the professional realm being able to note your speed is a great addition to your CV.
Understand that shorthand speed is universally described as the number of words that you can write in one minute. For this reason shorthand speed is generally described in words per minute (wpm), with 100 wpm the industry standard for journalists. Most people however speak at 120-140 wpm, so it is always worth improving your speed.
The easiest way to calculate your speed is to use shorthand tutorial CDs. These are easily available online and will include passages and progressively faster speeds. Most tapes will start at 50 wpm, which you could likely write in longhand, but this offers you the time to think about what you are writing before noting it down. Test yourself at each of these speeds until you can no longer keep up. The last speed you were comfortable with is your current shorthand dictation speed.
If you do not have access to shorthand tutorial tapes, try asking a friend to read aloud from a passage. Ideally you want to write nonstop for two minutes, so if you are testing yourself at 60 wpm ask them to read 120 words out loud over the course of two minutes. Similarly a 70-wpm test would include 140 words, and so on.
Speaking slowly can in itself be a challenge, so it may be worth marking timings on the paper they are reading from. For example, in a 60-wpm test they could put a dash after every 10th word to indicate that 10 seconds should have passed. A stopwatch should be used for accuracy.
You might find that you have confidently written 200 words in shorthand in two minutes and are now congratulating yourself on achieving the industry standard of 100 wpm, but this is not the end of the test. You must now transcribe your shorthand back into longhand and check for mistakes. If you have missed out occasional words, or worse yet an entire sentence, then you have not yet reached the level you are after. Shorthand is a great tool for taking notes, but wherever you use it accuracy is likely to be just as important as speed.