Apparently, some of today’s students are complaining that they’re so unused to writing by hand that they can’t keep it up for a three hour exam. So, are laptop- or tablet-friendly exam halls the answer?
I finished my university exams over six years ago, and I’ve only just about worked the cramp out of my hands since. I’ll readily admit; it wasn’t fun to sit in a drafty sports hall scribbling my mental ramblings for three hours.
That said, I never thought to question the process as anything other than what’s expected at the end of a semester. It seems students these days are bolder in standing up for their beleaguered digits, as increasingly universities are bowing to requests for laptops to be allowed in exam halls so students can type rather than write by hand.
Is the pen mightier?
I can see one advantage to this option, but that’s only because I felt a great swell of pity for any examiner forced to try and understand my handwriting. In the six years since I finished uni, this has further devolved into a rudimentary hieroglyphic known to me and only me.
Apparently laptops can be made exam-ready with some handy software which disables any capacity for cheating (blocking access to any other files, for example), so the system should be just as fair as writing by hand.
The main question is, in this world of keyboards and touchscreens, does a three hour hand written exercise actually have any relevance to the world of work that students will (hopefully) be moving on to?
Still a place for handwriting… for now
For me, I’d argue that there’s still a place for the pen in general, but probably not in university exam halls. After three years of delivering essays that had to be typed up to exact specifications (right down to the font and line spacing), it was curiously anachronistic to go back to writing an exam by hand at the very end of the course.
Even one of my lecturers admitted that he thought the entire exercise was pointless and students should only really be judged by their year-round performance and dissertation. Saying that, I quite fondly remember comparing ‘writer’s claws’ with my classmates as we stepped out of the exam halls and tried our best to lift a celebratory pint glass with our mangled hands.
Since starting work, ‘writer’s claw’ has been replaced by ‘typer’s wrist’, not to mention elbow, shoulder, neck, eyes and all the other body parts that suffer from a deskbound work life.
For me, the pen still matters, and I’d never advocate dropping handwriting as an essential skill to promote throughout schooling. I still love to receive a written letter, and tell myself off for not writing them more often. I’ve made my way through more notepads than I can count in my years at work, and learning to scribble like mad when you’re taking notes in a hurry is a skill that’s never left me.
Fond as I am of writing by pen or pencil, I’ll concede that a laptop- or tablet-led exam isn’t the worst idea in the world. But I dread to think what it would feel like to wake up on the morning of an exam to find that you hadn’t charged your computer overnight…
Would you support laptops or tablets in exam halls?
No – students should have to use pen and paper (45%, 113 Votes)
Maybe – it depends on the exam/subject (34%, 86 Votes)
Yes – it’s time to move into the 21st Century (20%, 51 Votes)
Total Voters: 253