Students’ Hands Too Feeble To Write Essays?

OK, we’re understanding people, we really are. But the Guardian has published a piece that puts forth the idea students are so unused to writing by hand that it stresses them out to do so on exams.


Student holding pen

From the Guardian:

For the moment it seems that the pen and paper are here to stay, but examiners are aware of the strain written tests place upon students. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, English tutor at Oxford University, says: “Inevitably, anxiety is sometimes voiced that students are now so used to typing they can’t cope with a three-hour handwritten exam.”

Students use keyboards almost exclusively for classwork, then are required to use pens and/or pencils on written essays during exam times. Apparently, that makes their hands hurt and slows down their ability to answer questions.

Writer Rebecca Ratcliffe says:

In the run-up to my undergraduate exams, I was advised by tutors to practice speedy handwriting. Some even claimed that candidates can’t write as much these days as their counterparts did in previous years, though no data is available to prove this.

UK school officials have suggested doing away with handwritten portions of tests, while some schools have given students the options of using laptops (although few students seem to take that choice, according to the Guardian).

Yes, writer’s cramp is real. We’ve all experienced it. Usually, it’s a result of practicing the ‘death grip,’ either from bad penmanship habits or from using a cheap ballpoint that doesn’t write smoothly.

And yes, writing by hand does require a bit of a different mental process than keyboarding. Research has consistently shown the two activities engage different areas of the brain.

(Oh, and there may also be a link between good handwriting and better grades.)

But has it really gotten to the point where it’s simply too much to pick up a pen for a few hours of test-taking?

Instead of abandoning a fundamental form of communication – one that is going to persist in one form or another until the end of time – there might be some better solutions. Such as encouraging students to handwrite some work throughout the school year. Or teaching them how to write properly in the first place. Or even just using ergonomic pens.

They’re students, after all. Writing is a basic part of education.

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Tony Bridges

As a seasoned journalist and freelance writer, I've spent over three decades telling stories and exploring the world through the written word. With a passion for writing instruments, I found my niche at The Pen Vibe, a blog that shares our collective fascination with pens, pencils, and other tools that have shaped the art of writing.

1 thought on “Students’ Hands Too Feeble To Write Essays?”

  1. This is one reason I teach handwriting – I have helped many teenagers develop a writing style – clear, fluid and swift – in order to cope with exams. Having taken 6 hour exams myself I know it is hard work, but it is possible.

    Sadly I am not surprised that students have trouble – I also teach 7 year olds who have finished their formal handwriting education without being able to clearly write the alphabet. They and their parents are being told “handwriting doesn’t matter.” I disagree. Handwriting is an amazing skill, requires zero electricity (works in power cuts!) and has many benefits beyond merely putting words upon a page.

    Thank you for highlighting this!


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