Typing compared with handwriting for essay examinations at university: letting the students choose
Students at the University of Edinburgh do almost all their work on computers, but at the end of the semester they are examined by handwritten essays. Intuitively it would be appealing to allow students the choice of handwriting or typing, but this raises a concern that perhaps this might not be ‘fair’ – that the choice a student makes, to write or to type, will affect their mark. The aim of this study was to identify and explore any systematic differences that may be introduced due to offering students the choice to write or type essay examinations. A class of 70 first-year divinity students were given the option of taking a mock examination, and the further option of handwriting or typing their answer. All the examination scripts were then faithfully transcribed into the opposite format so there was a printed copy and a handwritten copy of every script. These were then marked by four markers, such that every marker marked every script exactly once, in one format or the other. No significant differences could be identified due to the format in which the students had written their answer. Factors explored included length of essay, overall score awarded, and some qualitative measures designed to indicate essay quality. In contrast, the variation between the markers was striking.
Keywords: essay; examination; laptop; type; choice