Cambridge University considers computer-based exams due to declining handwriting habits

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The University of Cambridge is planning to scrap handwritten examinations due to the deterioration in students’ handwriting. The 800-year-old tradition of organising pen and paper exams may come to students are losing the ability to write by hand due to an increasing dependence on laptops and ipads.

“As a faculty we have been concerned for years about the declining handwriting problem. There has definitely been a downward trend. It is difficult for both the students and the examiners as it is harder and harder to read these scripts,” Dr Sarah Pearsall, Cambridge History Faculty senior lecturer told the Daily Telegraph.

Pearsall has been involved with the pilot and says that handwriting is becoming a “lost art”. She pointed out that, 15 or 20 years ago, students used to write for several hours a day, but now write next to nothing by hand except during exams.

The university has noted that students are even taking lecture notes on their laptops. According to Pearson, students are being forced to head back to college during summer holidays to read their answers aloud to two administrators, adding that an increasing number of scripts have to be transcribed centrally due to illegible handwriting.

Cambridge has launched a consultation on “digital education strategy” and had earlier piloted the exam typing scheme in the faculties of History and Classics. While many, including Pearsall, have commended this move, others are critical about the loss of handwriting and said this can stimulate a nostalgia for the written word.

According to British Institute of Graphologists handwriting expert Tracey Trussell, the university should “make sure that students continue to write by hand, especially in lectures.”

“Certainly with social media, iPads, and all the rest of it, people do clearly use keyboards much more than they would hand write. It’s vital that people continue to write by hand,” she said.

“Prompted by students raising concerns that they rarely handwrite during their studies,” a university spokesperson said that schools are considering adopting the no-handwriting exam model. The spokesperson added that a consultation is being conducted to decide whether computers should be allowed during exams.