Speed Plateau? Break Out Now!

Anybody who has ever learned shorthand has, at some stage, experienced the “speed plateau”. It’s not a nice place. No matter what you try, it seems you’re stuck with a certain speed. We blame our hands (they just can’t go faster), we blame our brains (it just can’t go faster) we may even blame shorthand (why did I learn this lousy system in the first place).

First things first. Plateaus with shorthand speed are natural. You’ll get them in pretty much any activity you could think of – sprinting, piano playing or ping pong. I believe plateaus are where knowledge and skill consolidate, levelling and steadying the ground for further progress. The key is to use our plateau as a springboard for the leaps forward we are about to make. If we don’t do this, we run the risk of our plateau becoming a rut.

So what’s the plan?

Essentially, breaking out of a plateau is a two-fold process – consolidating what you know and pushing yourself onto pastures new simultaneously. Sound difficult? It needn’t be.

First, establish your maximum speed – the speed at which you can only just keep up with the speaker, where you only get down a hint of an outline (the first letter, say) on some words, especially towards the end of a dictated passage. For the sake of argument, we’ll call that your plateau maximum speed.

Once you’ve established your plateau maximum speed, get it dictated to you at a significantly faster speed (either in person, or using speedbuilding CDs). By significantly faster, I mean 20wpm faster for those in the 50-100wpm range, or 10wpm faster for 100wpm-plus. You want it read to you faster than you can keep decent notes. At this speed, many of your outlines should be little more than hints of full words – partial outlines, letter strokes and so on.

After a couple of significantly faster dictations, try cutting back the speed – to 10wpm faster than your original plateau maximum speed (5wpm in the case of 100wpm-plus learners). You should notice a small improvement. An improvement which will become more noticeable the more you repeat the cycle.

Second, also do exercises based on your plateau maximum speed. The aim with these exercises (combined with the above) is to consolidate your shorthand precision and technique. We should be trying to write better notes and better outlines. Where we may previously have only got a single letter, a hint at a word, we are now aiming to get the whole word down.

Third, we need to go back to the theory when we plateau. One of the real keys to shorthand success is learning the basics well and then economising those outlines further. Depending on where you’re at with your speed, read up on word groupings and briefer outline forms.

Fourth, spend more time practicing. This really is crucial to making progress. And if you’re doing the above suggestions properly, it’s bound to take up more time.

Have you got any tips to share for breaking out a plateau? If so, please leave a comment!

3 thoughts on “Speed Plateau? Break Out Now!

  • October 18, 2010 at 11:12 am

    At 78 I’m getting back to Pitmans to keep my brain active. Sixty years ago I passed a certificate at 150wpm which required practicing at speeds 20wpm higher and even higher bursts. I recently taped editorials at 80wpm and also at 100wpm – when I can cover the 100 I will make another tape of 100 and 120. Much easier than the early days when my wife need to spend hours reading to me at a regulated speed. When I first commenced writing again a month ago at 80wpm I couldn’t imagine how I once wrote at twice the speed – but we will see what unfolds. I am now trying to track down a Pelikan pen because i find the Papermate pencils difficult to manage.

  • April 24, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I never knew shorthand was that easy. It’s the best ever


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