Journalism skills / NCTJ

NCTJ Reporting exam: worst mark, proudest grade.

If you followed my posts on ‘The Life of a … fast track NCTJ student’, you will probably have read about the very bad relationship I had with the NCTJ Reporting exam.

I hated it.

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I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I tried/revised/worked, I just couldn’t seem to get it. Reporting wasn’t like some of the other modules where you learnt about facts, you read about them, you remembered them, and then you regurgitated them in the exam. It was all about being practical, and doing what journalists actually do in the real world – writing. It was about gathering all the research you had and compressing it down into short reports, 50 word stories, longer stories, including quotes and furthering your news article. But the reason it became the absolute BANE of my life, is because the NCTJ examination markers didn’t like to pass reporting exams easily. It was incredible to get an A, amazing to get a B and good to get a C. It wasn’t the best to get a D as it meant you didn’t get the gold standard A-C that the industry are looking for. It wasn’t the writing that I found hard, or the collating data, it was the tiny tiny little mistakes that you could make that could cost you a whole grade.

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In the real world, spelling someone’s name wrong in a newspaper article just isn’t acceptable. Writing a place name wrong, spelling anything wrong, making an article seem like it is saying something else, not portraying the full story… all of these things aren’t acceptable and so in the exam they treat it like the real world. So that time I annoyingly spelt ‘hospital’ as ‘hosptial’ because I was typing quickly and I had forgot to turn spellcheck on, I got marked down, a whole grade, and failed the paper! It wasn’t easy because you had to be so particular in everything you did, it was about attention to detail and maintaining that through your whole paper for 2 and a half hours.

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Because you couldn’t ‘revise’ as such, if you wanted to get better you just had to PRACTICE.

  • Get past papers and find and spot the ANGLE of the story
  • Go over and write down the structures of your answers
  • What quotes would you use?
  • Look online for other reporting tips

I did this as much as I could, although we had a lot of other revision to do I tried to constantly make checklists in my head, on pieces of paper, stuck above my desk, of the ‘formula’ of passing the exam, of how to spot an angle, and things that you CANNOT DO. I also went online in a desperate bid to find more help:


They basically all talk about how stressful/hard/annoying the exam is… but give useful tips on how to pass!

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SO … when I was doing practice papers, you need a 50 to pass. My marks were ranging from 42-56 and no matter how hard I tried or well I thought I did on that paper, I ended up always being surprised by my grade, whether it be disappointed or happy. The exam didn’t go well for me, I came out not wanting to talk to anyone about it so that I didn’t know what they had written. I was convinced I would have to come back from travelling and retake my paper in order to get gold standard. But, when I was sitting outside a beach hut on a small island in the south of Thailand, I checked and found out that I passed!

I got a C. It was the lowest grade I got, but by FAR my proudest one.


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