Should laptops replace hand-written exams?

Students’ handwriting worsens. Therefore, Cambridge University considers replacing a pen and paper for exams by laptops.

According to academics at Cambridge University, students are losing the ability to write by hand because they mostly rely on laptops in lectures and elsewhere. “Fifteen or twenty years ago students routinely have written by hand several hours a day, but now they write virtually nothing by hand except exams”, Dr. Sarah Pearsall, a senior lecturer at Cambridge’s History Faculty told The Daily Telegraph. “It is difficult for both students and examiners as it is harder and harder to read scripts.”

As a solution to this problem the Cambridge University considers allowing laptops for exams. This will end an 800 years old tradition of handwritten exams.

Look up whatever you want, when you want it

Eric Mazur, Harvard academic, already encourages students to bring their laptops and smartphones to exams and to ‘look up whatever you want, when you want it’. “That means that I have to make sure that the answers to the questions I ask are not available by simple Google search, but that is a small price to pay”, he tells the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit. By permitting these devices, students test their creative and analytical skills, rather than their ability to recall information. This enabled him to make his assessments much more meaningful and representative of the 21st-century skills that Harvard wants its students to develop.


However, not everyone praises digital examining. Tracey Trussell, a handwriting expert at the British Institute of Graphologists, could see some value in digital examining, but she thinks that students should be encouraged to continue writing as well. “Principally because handwriting promotes creativity, improves memory, information retention and recall, and the ability to solve problems, as well as general good mental health.”

Some opponents fear that handwriting will become a matter of nostalgia or other schools will follow Cambridge’s example.

Tilburg University

Univers asked a few professors at Tilburg University whether they thought their students’ handwriting has gotten worse over the past years. However, many tests are multiple-choice at our university, and professors who do ask open questions on tests report that they do not really see a big change in the readability of their students’ handwriting. So leave your laptops at home and keep bringing your pens to your exams!


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