Should computers replace pen and paper in all written exams?

Exams have always been hand written but the option for using computers has come up a lot more in discussion because of the speed and convenience that it would offer in exam conditions.

Current practice bans typing exam answers unless required for some difficulty. Yet, with university students frequently using laptops and tablets more and more in lectures, note taking has been seen to have become somewhat archaic.

Concerns, especially for long essay writing exams, have been raised as an issue for years with students feeling their hands often cramp and worrying about poor writing in exams, only adding extra unnecessary stress. This calls for the need for universities to upgrade their outlook on written exams to move towards typed work rather than the traditional handwriting method.

“Using computers is the natural way the world is going, it prepares students for the real working world”

The response has however been fairly mixed. Advocates suggest that more could be written under time constraints on a computer. Moreover, “using computers is the natural way the world is going, it prepares students for the real working world, ” says Caron Downes, a classics teacher at St Peter’s School in York.


Yet critics argue that some students type slower, are less able on computers and prefer writing, making this, an unfair disadvantage. Additionally, staring at a screen and typing for long periods of time is known to cause the eye to ache especially for those who are less used to it.

“67% voted in favour of handwritten exams, 33% would prefer using a computer”

When I asked students which method they would prefer, 67% voted that they would favour handwriting all exams with only 33% of the 100 asked preferring to use a computer. Students I spoke to state,

“I didn’t really use a laptop for academic writing until aged 17/18 so I feel like it doesn’t feel as natural. It creates a disconnect. I feel though that it should be available to those who struggles with writing and the test for this means should be open to everyone”,  Jessica Vernon, English and Philosophy.

“I think that maybe people could be given the option to use them because my handwriting is pretty much illegible. Also, maybe using computers would change how much people would be able to physically write in an exam.”,  Cali Jeferies, Classics.

“I think computers should be allowed, a lot of people have poor writing and poor spelling which can make your writing seem less intelligent which can have an overall impact on your grade.”,Anonymous.

It stands that most people felt as though there should be an option given to those who do struggle with handwriting as this does seem to be a recurrent problem student’s face. However, a large proportion of students were mostly against the notion of computer written exams without extenuating circumstances.


Miriam Thompson

Image courtesy of John Flanagan via Flickr. Image license here.

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