A speedbuilding technique

This is an article from 2009 from a world record holder on his speedbuilding technique:

360 Words Per Minute World Record Holder Shares Methods

By Mark Kislingbury

Mark Kislingbury, the setter of the Guinness World Record of 360 words per minute with 97.22% accuracy, shares his methods.

“What does this champion speed writer say about reading back? What does he say about practicing for ‘control?’”

Many people have asked him those questions and here are his answers:

On reading back: I believe everyone should practice reading back, so that you can be good at reading back. Once you are good at reading back, you can do far less of it. But always do some so that you will not lose the ability to read back at a good pace.

Personally, I don’t find reading back to be something that helps me in speed building. To me it’s a waste of time. Because court reporters must be able to read back, we must practice so that we are able to read back. But not for gaining writing speed.

On practicing for control: Here is a description of my speed building method, which does not include practicing for control, and I will explain why further down.

Every student and reporter should be able to write nearly perfectly at SOME speed.

That “nearly perfectly” level, let’s call that your Realtime Speed.

There is also a speed level at which every student and reporter can, on average, transcribe that speed and usually get a score of 95% or better.

Let’s call that your Top Speed.

I have found that by practicing hard at speeds 25-30% above my Top Speed, I most quickly improve. I have heard many stories of court reporters who show up at a job, it’s way too fast, but by the end of the day the court reporter has adapted and gained the necessary speed. And that’s in one day. And it was done by being forced to write considerably faster than the reporter’s Top Speed.

When you practice 25-30% above your Top Speed, your Top Speed goes up, automatically. And your Realtime Speed automatically goes up as well. By itself. It rises at the same rate the Top Speed rises, all by practicing at high speeds. You can prove it be
testing yourself at, say, 10% above your old Top Speed, and 10% above your old Realtime Speed, and you will see that you are now better. So, no need to practice for “control,” as you have already improved merely by high-speed practice.

Let me give an example.

Harold is a student who has passed two Q&A tests at 200wpm. Let us call that his Top Speed. Or at least, he is almost at 200, since he has only passed two tests at that speed and failed a number of others.

When Harold writes Q&A at 160wpm (or so), it’s nearly perfect. So that’s his Realtime Speed.

Harold Top Speed: 200wpm Harold Realtime Speed: 160wpm

Now, at this point, if Harold wants to write for “control,” he can just go to 160wpm, and he has great control there. If he goes to 200wpm, he’s barely hanging on, not much control there, but he has passed two tests. It’s not beautiful by any means, but he can pass
200wpm on occasion.

Schools traditionally would tell Harold to keep practicing at 200, and sometimes 210, until he slowly slowly improves.

To the contrary, I teach that Harold should now be practicing at 25-30% faster than his Top Speed, which means, he should practice Q&A at 250-260wpm.

My method involves the following:

We are trying to teach him to move his fingers faster, at all costs, even at the cost of accuracy.

He needs to strive to, at all costs, get a stroke for everything – do not drop.
He needs to stay right on the speaker at all costs. Do not lag behind.
He needs to strive to form the right stroke to the best of his ability, and “feel” himself approximating the stroke, even if it’s not perfect (it usually won’t be).
He needs to give 100% concentration. (Note: if he needs to drop Q. or A. symbols to keep up, go ahead, do it – it’s better to do that than to drop words)
He needs to give himself credit for a job well done whenever he doesn’t drop, and whenever the strokes “feel” close to what they should be. (It is important to note that he will not be able to read what he is writing at 250-260, but as long as he follows the above, he will improve, and fast.)

After practicing this way for as long as he can, as often as he can, Harold then should come back down to 200wpm to TEST himself. He should write at 200wpm for ONLY 30 SECONDS, still following 1, 2, 3, and 4 above. He should be able to read it back (or transcribe it) PERFECTLY.

Harold does so, and he’s amazed that he can write a 200wpm, for 30 seconds, perfectly!

Harold should NOT keep writing at 200, but go right back to 250-260 and keep practicing there. If he wants to come back down to 200, or 225, he can, but only for 30 seconds, to demonstrate that he can read it back (or transcribe it) perfectly.

Using this method, he will master 200. Next comes 225. Now he should practice 280-290wpm, using the same methods.

Very soon, Harold will pass his 225s and be out of school.

Now, there is no “practicing for control” in this method, as when Harold went back down to 200, and 225, he found he was very good already, and so no need for “control” practice as it’s already there. Practicing hard at high speeds automatically gives control at low speeds — providing that the methods of 1, 2, 3, and 4 above are adhered to.

Many students (as well as reporters) have used my methods and quickly advanced as a result.

WARNING: If you are a student or reporter using a STROKE-INTENSIVE THEORY, you MUST also shorten your writing by incorporating hundreds, and then thousands, of briefs for common words and phrases. If you don’t, your Top Speed, even using my methods, will
be LIMITED to (depending on your talent level) 225-240, and 260 for the most talented.

However, if you shorten your writing a great deal, and combine this with high-speed practice, speeds of 300, 340, and 360 are possible! And even higher.

About the Author

Mark has been a court reporter for over 25 years and lives in Texas with his wife and three children. Read about his accomplishments and awards here.

Although Kislingbury has developed his own theory of shorthand that he teaches, his comments in the last two paragraphs indicate that this recommended strategy is not only for his theory of shorthand, but essentially for all theories with brief forms.

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3 comments Add yours
  1. I messed around with the old style steno machine for a while and they basically use chords to make words and phrases, similar to a piano player doing jazz chords. Being able to use two hands plus two thumbs gives a big advantage but there are a lot of finger twisting gymnastics you have to master to be fast. Kislingbury uses a system that incorporates plurals, prefixes and suffixes all in one stroke (chord) so he cuts down on extra strokes. In other words, he has a vast amount of briefs or shortcuts that he created that most others would never be able to recollect and use in real time.  In pen shorthand this would be equivalent to making briefs for thousands of common words and phrases, something akin to Pre anniversary Gregg but much more so.

    1. The thing that interested me was the speedbuilding technique of always practicing at a much higher speed than one is comfortable – which I assume will work with GS too. Perhaps this is obvious to everyone, but it wasn't to me!

  2. High speed practice made a big difference to me — after I knew the theory.

    Pushing it too high while learning the rules didn't help. I glanced at the rules, wrote the word list once without really thinking about it, and spent the rest of the time trying to build speed. When I couldn't reach my target, I gave up, and stopped formal study.

    Pushing it now, with passages not keyed to the text, has gone from looking up words and thinking about them, to looking them up and blindly copying them. Again, speed without theory started well and ended badly.

    High speed helps, but we also need slow time. Focus on the rule you forgot. If you look up more than a word or two per dictation, you need to review all the rules.

    Look at your writing critically and train your hand to do it right at all speeds. Writing it fast will refine the shape, and show you where it's worth the extra practice, but only if it's reasonably good to start with.

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