August 2013: You Can’t Pass if You Don’t Go


MerileeBy: Merilee Johnson – RPR, CCP, CBC, CRR, RSA

Do you dread when someone asks you if you’re certified?  Or do you cringe when you’re asked to introduce yourself and state what certifications you have?  Have you gone to an National Court Reporters Association convention where you’re surrounded by people who have more ribbons than a parade float hanging from their nametag displaying all their certifications, while yours is just black and white?  Am I alone in having had to experience these anxieties, or are there others who have struggled with the same fear of failing the certification exams as I have?   If so, let me share my story with you.

When I first graduated court reporting school, I was the typical graduate; eager, motivated, and ready to dive in and start my career.  First step, get a job.  Second step, take the RPR.   Third step, get my CRR.  Fourth step… well, I have no idea what the fourth step was because I came to a screeching halt at step 2.  I took the RPR but didn’t pass.  That failure was so hard to swallow that from that point on, I told myself — and anyone who asked — that getting certified wasn’t important.   I mean, I already had a job and getting my RPR wouldn’t give me a raise, so why would I go through that humiliation again?  So from there on out, I quit going to the exam.

After the test, I continued working as an official and was surrounded by seasoned RPR court reporters.  There is a theory that with time, you become in sync with those around you.  Well, with time the judges started assuming I was certified.  Whenever the topic of certification came up, I would do everything I could to redirect the conversation so I would not have to directly address not being certified.   It became a painful art that I mastered until I finally got tired of making excuses and took the exam again.

Now, let’s go back a few steps.  When I said I quit going to the exam, that’s exactly what I did, I quit going.  That’s not to say I stopped registering and paying for the exam.   The truth is, regardless of what I would say to others or to myself, deep down I really wanted my RPR but the fear of failure was too much to face.  And it wasn’t limited to the fear of failing; I had too much pride to have other colleagues know that I wasn’t passing that exam.  When reporters would talk to me about it, I would explain how my anxiety was worse than anyone else’s,  I would tell them there wasn’t an incentive to get it because it wouldn’t change my income,  that I was a good reporter without my RPR.  The list of excuses went on.

For years I lived behind these justifications and misdirections, trying to dodge questions while devaluing certifications that I knew were worthwhile.  Finally one day the mental machinations became too exhausting and I got tired of making excuses.   I finally went to the exam that I had signed up for.  I didn’t tell anyone, I just did it.  I spent less time coming up with excuses and directed my energy towards just showing up for the exam.  And you know what?  I passed and was finally an RPR!  I was on such a high that I registered and paid to take the CRR for the next testing cycle… and didn’t go.  Then I registered again, and didn’t go.  Then I registered again, and didn’t go.  Here I am, back at square one, feeling like the reporter that just got out of school; motivated by the letters, discouraged by the fear of failure.

Time passed and I became complacent in my career and I was in need of a professional makeover, so I went back to court reporting school.  I started with a class that everyone had been talking about but honestly, I didn’t think I would get much out of.  Turns out, that class and that instructor was the motivation I needed to revamp my career.  My instructor quickly became aware of my fears.  More truthfully, she was more familiar with my excuses.   As an instructor she’s heard every excuse in the book and while she didn’t call me out on my excuses directly, she quietly listened and smiled.  After a semester of listening to me, the week of the CRR arrived and she came up to me and explained a very simple concept; one that sticks with me today.  She said, “You can’t pass if you don’t go.”  I tried to think of a response that would justify why I might not make it but I had nothing that could stand up to that simple concept.  What she did next held me accountable for my own future.  She said she was going to give me her credit card and told me I was to return it to her the day of the exam.   (Big gulp.)  So needless to say, I showed up.

Here’s the part of the story I don’t like to tell, and where the real life story deviates from the fairy tale.  Although I finally showed up for the CRR, I failed that exam.  In fact, I failed that exam three times.   I was so embarrassed by my inability to pass that exam that I would blame my results on test anxiety, not having time to practice, forgetting about the exam, being too busy with transcripts, explained that I changed the way I was writing, and more. I came up with every excuse.  But out of all the excuses I gave, I never said the test was too hard.  And eventually I passed.

So if you’re like me and you cringe every time someone brings up certifications, I encourage you to give it a shot.  We all have anxiety, but if your anxiety is about the fear of failing, you’re not alone.  It’s okay to fail.  Every one of us failed while we were testing in school, but eventually we all graduated, right?  So if deep down you really want to be certified, let me be your cheerleader to say, go do it!  Because one day, whether it’s the first time or fifth time or you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve taken an exam, know that you WILL pass.  So go, and at least show up for the exam.  You never know, that may be a good testing day.