on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

By Dave Winkeler; XHTML by G.D. Warner

Homestudy Speed Testing

How to Test Your Speed at Home


Dave Winkeler, a home study student studying Phoenix Theory, was kind enough to give me permission to post his method of testing his steno speed at home for all to share. This info will be useful to you whether you're a student at a brick-and-mortar school, or going it alone, like Dave.

Please join me in giving Dave a virtual HIGH-FIVE for his efforts on our behalf! Way to go, Dave ... and, as they say, "You Da MAN!!"

And now, without further ado ....


Since I am currently teaching myself speedbuilding, I use various methods and tools to practice my dictation, push myself for more speed, and actually test and grade myself. Whatever you use, you'll need to practice from audio at some point, because that's how we're going to be doing our jobs as reporters some day. (I do almost all my practicing from audio.) You can use a tape recorder (variable speed machine is best to slow down and speed up recordings), or if you have a recording application on your computer and a CD-burner, that's even better. I happen to have a program called Vegas, which is a home studio recording program I use to record music. It lets me record my own dictation or audio from the internet or other sources, convert the files to MP3s, and copy them to CDs to play back. It's rather expensive and you couldn't justify it for this use alone. But there are other cheaper recording applications available, if you want to purchase one. I also use RealOne Audio for playing back audio files.

I would recommend downloading the free application called "Drill Machine," available at http://www.cheapandsleazy.net/dm.html. This is a great tool and easy to use. It will count the words for you and show you how fast to read text into your recording device for any speed you want. I use this tool to make a lot of different dictation files from text I get from various internet sources.

There are lots of places to find text for making your own dictation. Here are some of my favorite sites:

I also record (on my PC and sometimes using a tape recorder) audio files from the internet such as NPR news stories and interviews (good Q&A), books on tape (from the internet), etc., and slow them down about 50% or so using my Express Scribe. At this point, I'm not concerned about how fast the dictation is; it just gives me good practice at writing "real" conversation instead of all the canned ones that sound so stiff sometimes. The good thing about Express Scribe (or another package) is that you can take a drill, such as one at 100 wpm, and practice it at 45 wpm or 200 wpm, if you want to.

Here are a couple applications you can get to control the speed of your MP3s. I use them both, but I like the free one the best:

Of course, there are tons of audio dictation tapes and CDs out there for sale, but I try to keep my costs down, so I make a lot of my own. But I do recommend dictation material from Speedbuilders.com as well as tapes from LifeLine Dictation. LifeLine doesn't have a website, but you can request their brochure by calling (717) 776-4163. Speedbuilders e-mails you MP3 files that you can play on your PC.

Update (16OCT08)

LifeTime Dictation now has a website: http://www.lifelinedictation.com

I also have recorded (this took a bit of time!) all of the FastTrack drills onto a CD at 40 and 50 wpm. I work on these a lot, speeding up and slowing down as necessary. Don't underestimate the incredible value of the FastTrack drills in reinforcing your theory and discovering those theory principles that cause you hesitation.

As far as manually counting your words for testing, that's fairly easy as well. It just takes a little time. Here's how you do that.

  1. Have the text that you want to write typed out so you can mark it.

  2. Determine what speed you want to write at. We'll use 40 wpm, as an example.

  3. That means (using the word count method) that you need to cover 40 words every minute, or 10 words every 15 seconds.

  4. So, in your text, make a mark (/) after every ten words, for 15 seconds; when you get to the fourth mark (which will be one minute), make it a double mark (//)

  5. Keep marking your text this way for as long as you want the dictation to be, such as five minutes, making the double mark at each minute location. This will make it easier for you to know where you should be when reading it back.

  6. Now, using a watch second hand (or stopwatch is better), start reading the text into a tape recorder, glancing at your stopwatch to make sure you hit your marks on the 15-30-45 and 60 second times. This takes a little practice at first, before you actually record yourself, to know how fast to talk.

  7. Now you have a recording at your specific wpm.

If you want to use a syllabic count instead of word count, it's a bit more work, BUT after a wise soul reminded me of the difference between Word and Syllabic count, please read this great article of Kathy's before you dot another "I" (or slash another word):


I also made a simple Excel file to calculate your test scores (and tell you if you passed or failed) and figure where to set your speed control application to get a desired speed. I'll e-mail this file to anyone who requests it. My e-mail address is winkeler@charter.net.


No need to e-mail Dave to request this file; it is linked both above and here.

I hope this is more helpful than confusing. I hesitated to post all this on the forum, since it's so much and since it's just my method and may not work for everyone. But if it helps in any way, that's great. I must say I get so much valuable information from this forum that it pleases me to think I might actually be able to give something back.