*I'll start by reminding you quickly that I'm not an expert, this is just my experience with journalism exams.*
NCTJ 'junior' and 'senior' exams:
First up a bit of background - NCTJ is the main credited body for journalists so when I left uni with an English degree and wanted to get into journalism, having NCTJ qualifications on my CV seemed like a good thing to do.
I did my NCTJ diploma (think of this as the junior exams) through distance learning and that allowed me to get a trainee reporter role. Find out more about that here.
When you become a trainee reporter, you can do 18-24 months working in the newsroom before you're allowed to do the senior exams known as the NQJs. This time frame depends on your workplace, and mine wanted me to do two years.
I started in September 2020, and then sat my NQJs in November 2022. The NQJs can be sat three times a year - March, July, and November.
Once you have the NQJ you are a senior reporter and that's really as high as you can go in journalism in terms of exams.
Why do the NQJ?
Not everyone does the NQJ, but I personally wanted it because:
- It gets you a pay rise
- It means that on my CV I have the highest NCTJ qualification so thought it would be good for employment prospects
What does it involve?
There's three elements to the NQJ - the logbook, a practical exam, and a law exam. All three are equally weighed and you have to get 60%+ in each one to pass overall. If you fail one element you only have to resit that one. If all your results are 60%+ then they find your average to give you an overall result - pass (60-64%), merit (65-69%), distinction (70%+).
This is like another portfolio to show the examiners what you've been working on as a trainee. There's 10 categories (eg. politics, court, visual, trainee choice) to cover and within those you have to show different types of stories and explain what decisions were made and why.
There's a lot more to it than the portfolio for the junior exams because there's so much admin to do within each category. This is definitely something to start a few months in as a trainee. I noted down potential entries early on and then worked away at it little and often for the last year as a trainee. The logbook really isn't something you can leave to the last minute.
The 'big news story' exam is all about showing the examiner how you would cover a breaking news stories. You're given new information throughout the exam and have to write a short/long story, and then have to explain how you would use social media/manage the story. This was a 2.5-hour remote exam.
This is like a harder version of the law exam for the NCTJ diploma. On the plus side, it's open book. This means you have your McNae's but you have to know exactly how to answer the questions and include certain details to get those important marks from the examiners. This was a two-hour remote exam.
What preparation you do:
I had a trainer called Nick who was in charge of helping me get exam-ready. He was sorted out through the company I work for. This included a workshop two months before the NQJs which was all about the practical exam. This was a two-hour remote session followed by a mock which he marked.
Then a month before the exams I had a refresher with Nick which was made up of five one-hour remote sessions to go through content for the law exam.
With the logbook, there was an editor called Nicola within my company that worked on it with me. This included emails and a few remote sessions to make sure I was on track to get it all done in time.
Other than that it's on you to be ready. I did lots of mocks to make sure I got the exam technique right.
There are extra preparation sessions offered by the NCTJ themselves, but I chose not to do these as I felt my sessions with Nick were enough.
Exam day and results:
You have to submit your logbook a week before the exams and then both exams are sat on the same day.
I found the exam day pretty tiring but as relaxed as it could have been given that you're doing two quite long exams. It definitely calmed me down doing them remotely because it meant in between exams I could relax in the living room while I had lunch.
Results were issued a month later via email (they tell you you'll get the email by 5pm on a certain day). Fast-forward through that month of thinking about results constantly, and I woke up very nervous. I wasn't expecting results until at least the afternoon but worked from home that day in case I'd failed and needed to cry.
Shockingly, at 9.04am the results email pinged into my inbox and of course I clicked into the wrong attachment as my hands were shaking. After a lot of stress, I got the right letter and found I'd passed with a distinction! What followed was a high pitched phone call to my parents and a day of work where I couldn't really concentrate on anything other than the fact I'd just passed the final exams I'll ever take - hallelujah!!
As I'm writing this I can reveal some news... I have just secured a job as a production journalist for ITV West Country!
I'll be moving to Bristol in a few weeks and still feel like I'm living in a dream. The role mixes digital and broadcast journalism so is exactly what I wanted.
I couldn't be happier and feel this is a brilliant next step for me. I can't wait to get started!
Other journalism pieces I've done that you might find useful: