Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Pros and Cons of Typing Exams

Over at CALI's Pre-Law Blog, Austin Groothius has a post you should read, if for no other reason than the title. His post discusses my recent comments on another student blog post at The Legal Scoop entitled "Typing Your Way to an 'A.' " I have a few more thoughts on both the Legal Scoop post and Pre-Law Blog post, which I set forth here.

First, here's what I said in my recent post:

[The Legal Scoop's recent post, "Typing Your Way to an 'A,' "] discusses the importance of typing to law school success. I'd add that a long exam answer is no guarantee of a good answer if you do not know what you are doing, but it may help avoid a complete meltdown if you can at least randomly hit important points. If you know what you are doing, however, being able to flesh out your answer in great detail certainly does help.

Comment #1:

What Pre-Law Blog Says: Groothius agrees with the Legal Scoop post, and says that "arguing that a law student should even consider hand-writing an exam over typing when typing is an option is a silly argument unless that individual student is a poor typer. . . . [S]ubconciously, professors prefer typed exams to handwritten."

What I Think: When text is neat and easy to read (whether hand written or typed), that does ease the professor's burden. And it's also perhaps true that text in print looks "smarter" or more professional than handwritten text, which I suppose helps on some level. By way of analogy, I will say that I always think my law review articles look a lot smarter in their final, formatted form than they do in ordinary MS Word format or on Lexis or Westlaw. So in that sense, I agree with Groothius.

Yet in my experience, some people write better by hand than by typing. And by "write," I really mean "effectively present their thoughts." Are you the kind of person who processes what you think better on paper, or on a computer screen? That's an important question to ask yourself. Try taking some sample exams by computer and others by hand writing your answers. Does one feel more natural or comfortable to you? If one way seems clearly better to you, then use that approach.

I tell my students that they should take exams however they are most comfortable doing it--either writing or typing. As much as I like the legibility of typed exams, that should not trump the important considerations of comfort and effectiveness of presentation and organization of your answers.

It's also worth pointing out that in the last several semesters, grades for people who have typed their exams in my (anonymously graded) classes have been virtually identical to grades for people who have hand written their exams. The point, I suppose, is that typing is not a guaranteed way to a better grade.

Comment #2:

What Pre-Law Blog Says: Groothius suggests that if you are a bad typist, then you should consider taking a typing course of some sort.

What I Think: I absolutely agree. Even if you hand write your exams in law school, some day you hope to practice law or do something else in the professional world. Which will entail typing. And the faster you are, the better off you are.

4 comments:

Kaytie said...

I'm a firm believer in hand-writing. I have a tendency to want to edit myself too much, and hand-writing removes that possibility. Hand-writing makes me commit to a position and defend it. I also don't make typo's, which to some professors are more distracting than poor penmanship. And I'll be prepared for the Mississippi Bar Exam, which is still exclusively hand-written. So I'd have to say I (mostly) disagree with the post to which Professor Bowman is responding.

On a different note, I'd like to point out that, at some schools (such as, I believe, NYU), hand-writing is no longer even an option. I'd be up a creek...

Gregory W. Bowman said...

I was certainly thinking about typos when writing this post. It's actually really distracting to red an anwer taht is porly tyepd. The subconscious message there might be "I am not very good with the English language," instead of "I am a really sloppy hand writer." Perhaps it's up to the student to pick which poison he or she prefers. It's certainly the responsibility of the professor to guard against letting such subconscious thinking affect the grading process, but as Groothius suggests (and human nature suggests too), there's no 100% guaranty.

As for Kaytie's point about over-editing, I actually had never thought about it that way. It's forced efficiency, which on a timed test is a very good thing. And there are fewer typos, to be sure.

My post and comments of course do not address whether essay exams are the best way to test student knowledge. But that's a post for another day.

Austin said...

Thanks again, Professor. I have to say, I love that you're one of the only law professor bloggers whose blog is so law student-centric. Whether you mean it to be or not, so much of what you post seems to be with your law students in mind. That must be a testament to the type of professor that you are.

I can't take too much credit for the title. That really was my high school teacher. The double entendre flew right over her and most students in the the class' heads.

Not sure what it says about me as a person that it has stuck with me this long.

Responding to Kaytie, over-editting is a valid point. But I think if that is a problem for an individual, then it places that person in the category of should not type the exam due to poor typing. I think learning to type accurately and efficiently before law school (mine is a pre-law blog) is much preferable.

One of my points is that with typing, in my experience I've had enough time to write the exam initially as I would as if handwriting, less worried about typos, structure, etc. But much faster than handwriting. Then finish an exam well ahead of time and go back through and edit with those mistakes, as well as my arguments, in mind.

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