Be CER Loud and Proud: The Value of Certification for Digital Reporters

Displaying the CER or CDR credentials after your name is a career-boosting move for both newcomers and experienced digital reporters. The time you invest in getting certified pays dividends in validating your professional competency, accelerating your earning potential, and demonstrating your continuous dedication to elevating industry standards. It also opens the door to networking opportunities and gives you an edge in marketing your freelance business.

The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) offers proficiency tests to prove your skills and knowledge of the trade. Since 1994, this professional association has promoted the benefits of adopting new technologies and methodologies to enhance the digital court reporting industry. AAERT worked with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C., and consulted certification materials from federal court reporting, state stenographic, and digital recording vendors to establish the certification guidelines.

Geri DeAngelis, who serves as the director of TCRA’s Scholarship and Sponsorship Programs, notes that increasingly more contracts are requesting certified reporters whether they are steno or digital. “In Illinois and Georgia, the first thing agencies ask is if you are certified. As we make further progress in the digital world, taking on more legal proceedings jobs, agencies will want to protect themselves by hiring certified reporters. And if they have a choice between two working reporters, most will opt to hire the certified one.”

Along with the CER (certified electronic reporter), AAERT recently added the CDR (certified deposition reporter) credential, which is still in the pilot phase. In order to take the tests, you must be an AAERT member. Apprentice members can purchase the study guide for the discounted price, but they are not eligible to sit for the exam. Typically, digital reporters must have one year of working experience, yet students of The Court Reporting Academy receive a letter of recommendation that allows them to test immediately upon graduation.

“Becoming AAERT certified brings you into a special community. When you join an association, you are automatically included in a group and part of the team,” says DeAngelis, who was elected to the AAERT Board of Directors this fall. “By taking your membership to the next level through certifying your knowledge, you get to have a say in things when you are a CER.”

Taking the AAERT CER Exam

Along with paying the $125 AAERT annual membership dues and purchasing the 74-page Best Practice Study Guide for $50, you will need to pay a $275 fee for the exam. Available seven days per week, including evenings, it is completed online through a proctoring service that uses a webcam to ensure integrity. You are not permitted to have any reference materials at your desk. The 120-minute knowledge exam consists of multiple-choice questions covering technical equipment and setup, legal vocabulary, court procedures, and log annotations.

You receive immediate notification when you pass with a minimum score of 80 percent, and within two to three weeks, a formal letter and certificate will arrive by mail. If you don’t meet that threshold, then you will need to pay an additional $175 retake fee. TCRA is proud that 99% of its graduates who take their test are able to pass the first time.

Maintaining the CER Credential

To ensure professional standards are upheld, recertification is required every three years. The subsequent exam fee is $100 but shoots up to $300 if association membership is not maintained. At age 59, reporters who have been AAERT members for six years can apply for a non-expiring Emeritus status during their recertification year. The application process includes writing a short essay on how certification designation has helped your professional life and why you believe it is important to maintain the designation.

I figured Friday was a good day to pass the AAERT! I would like to thank the Academy…

“I wouldn’t have passed the AAERT exam without the guidance of The Court Reporting Academy,” says California digital reporter, Kevin McGuire, CER, who celebrated with a cheeky tribute post on the TCRA Community Facebook group. “They thoroughly covered all the materials through course study, weekly reviews, quizzes, mock depositions, and hands-on learning. I couldn’t have done it without them!”

Credentialed professionals are also required to complete three continuing education unit (CEU) credits every three years. One credit is received for every 10 contact hours. CEUs are obtained by participating in industry webinars, attending or presenting at digital reporting conferences, or enrolling in AAERT-approved classes. Preapproved credits may be earned through college-level business, computer skills, and English courses that have at least a C grade as well as adult education and CPR/First Aid classes. Other opportunities include serving on the AAERT board or writing for AAERT publications.

Prepare to Pass the CER Exam

Students who enroll in TCRA’s DCR 101 and 102 courses spend significant time preparing to sit for the AAERT exam. The Academy also offers working professionals an accelerated Prepare to Pass course. Typically priced at $395, a discount is available to current AAERT members. This comprehensive program includes six study modules that can be completed online and at your own pace. The course emphasizes vocabulary comprehension, the reporting process, and the expectations of a highly qualified reporter. It also reviews the complexities of working in remote proceedings, properly setting up digital equipment, understanding jurisdictions and legal processes as well as developing basic transcript knowledge.

“Certification opens up doors to unlimited job opportunities. Along with gaining industry recognition, becoming a CER puts you in an elite group that lets you stand out among others. Validating your professionalism also helps you exude confidence when you enter that room,” says Patricia Falls, managing director for TCRA. “I always tell our students that once you are certified, there ain’t no stopping you now!”