Laptops could replace written exams at Cambridge University, as students' handwriting worsens

Cambridge University had tested out typing exams in the history and classics departments earlier this year.
Cambridge University had tested out typing exams in the history and classics departments earlier this year. PHOTO: AFP

CAMBRIDGE - Bad handwriting might just be the reason Cambridge University halts 800 years of tradition.

The university is considering the use of laptops to replace pen and paper for exams, as students are losing the ability to write by hand due to their reliance on devices during classes, British media reported on Saturday (Sept 9).

Senior lecturer Sarah Pearsall of the history faculty told The Guardian that students still wrote by hand several hours daily 15 or 20 years ago, but now mostly do not do that except during exams.

"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," she said.

This development is part of the university's digital education strategy.

It had tested out typing exams in the history and classics departments earlier this year, a scheme which has been in place for Edinburgh University's first and second year divinity students since 2011.

Back then, Edinburgh University's professor of higher education Dai Hounsell had said that students faced two problems when writing during exams.

Firstly, they were not used to writing by hand for so long. Secondly, planning and writing essays on paper was different mentally from typing them out on computers.

Students were thus given the option of using a laptop for exams, although it has not been rolled out campus-wide.