Hand cramps and ink stains

Typing essay tests would likely show a more accurate picture of students’ knowledge.

For many students, the middle of the semester means midterms. For some, it also means hand cramps, ink stains and mind-boggling, jumbled attempts at writing essay answers on these very midterms. The blue book becomes very familiar to students from their first semester at the University, but is the old pencil-and-paper method really doing students’ knowledge justice?

Many think no. Timed essay exams such as for art history, English, political science and numerous other subjects send students on a mind-racing obstacle course that tests the strength of their hand muscles for an entire class period, and then forces the writer to balance this strain with formulating persuasive thought and writing it down in a logical order.

So, in an environment where almost every department is dependent on computer use, whether it be for paper-writing, online readings, course Web sites or just e-mail contact, why aren’t we using computers for test taking?

The University would need to buy many laptops or word processors to be checked out by professors on test days. During finals weeks, it could be very difficult to organize computer distribution. Would it also be easier to cheat?

However, the Graduate Management Admission Test has been taken via computer since 1999, and even has software that grades essay questions on the test. ACT and SAT officials claim that their tests will soon be computerized.

Essay tests would be a more accurate measurement of many students’ knowledge if they were typed instead of hand-written. Students are used to seeing their writing on computer screens, and having the words clearly laid out on a screen makes it much easier to organize ideas. Also, many students type faster than they can write, and this would give them a longer amount of time to make their argument clear and concise.

Typed essays are also easier on the eyes of someone who is grading 30 of them at a time. It could also cut down on paper costs if students sent their answers via e-mail.

Some of this is far fetched, but the idea has already been implemented across the country. The University should ponder the possibilities that some methods of computerized testing could afford.