I have seen mentioned a few times on Athabasca University social pages questions about preference to writing longhand versus typing. Typically I think the preference lies in generation: what did you grow up doing? More recently, the question came up regarding paper and online exams. There seems to be some consensus for math exams to be paper, as it makes writing out equations easier. Of course, the thought of writing or typing math equations make me cringe. My exam experience resides, predominately, in English exams.
Some have said that they prefer the ease of cutting and rewriting a section when the exam is online. Rather, than crossing out and attempting to add in, or restarting on another page. Some are relieved they no longer have to make their chicken scratch legible. Some find typing more time consuming and difficult. Staying with the chicken analogy, the “hunt and peck”, while perfectly legible, can take up precious minutes of a timed exam. The ability to cut and rewrite a section, or move it, does not always make up for the time lost hunting and pecking for keys. Both paper exams and online exams have merit when it comes to exams with essay questions.
I have a difficult time getting behind either paper or online formats based on longhand versus typing; maybe I am in that “in-between” generation, or maybe just plain strange as I enjoy longhand writing. I like online exams for one main reason: it cannot get lost in the mail. None of my exams have been permanently lost but they have been temporarily misplaced, two in a row. Having an exam go astray is extremely stressful. So I have a preference for the online format. But, for the writing part of the exam, I have a difficult time deciding.
I like that online I do not have to worry about my writing being legible. My writing can get so messy that at times even I cannot read it, and during exams I have to make a conscious effort to write slowly and form my letters correctly. I also have no issues typing, and I like to think my speed is fairly decent. When typing I do not need to be concerned about having to write slowly or legibly.
But there is merit to paper exams, and I enjoy longhand writing my answers. I connect to the work better, and I feel less committed to what I am writing; which, I know, sounds backwards. But, for me, typing feels like the “polished” step. In all my assignments, articles, and online exams I longhand the first draft: every time. For online exams the ease of mind tips the scale of preference. Since I prefer to longhand my first draft, organize my thoughts, and I can type fairly quickly, I found one very simple solution: bring blank paper. I always bring a few sheets of paper on which I can create outlines, write answers, and jot down notes before committing to any single thought. The invigilator has to go through all my paper before I am allowed to bring it into the exam, and of course at the end of the exam she collects it all and, I presume, shreds it.
Online exams versus paper exams both have merit, and it largely depends on subject matter. For myself, though, I think I will stick with the peace of mind that comes with the online format, and continue to make my invigilator sift through my stack of blank paper. After all, why not have the best of both worlds?
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature