Exam Changes: Computer vs. Paper

-by Holly Breuer- Had you told me freshman year (or last year, for that matter) that I could type my two-hour, writing-intensive English and history exams on a laptop, I probably would have hugged you in the hallway. Well, despite the lack of celebratory hugging in Winsor’s halls this January, several history and English sections received exactly that announcement prior to the commencement of first-semester exams.

As I’ve contemplated the new slew of computer-based exams at Winsor this year, I’ve come to accept two realities: typed exams are easier for teachers to read and, often, easier and quicker for students to write. Mrs. Skeele, an English teacher whose section of Class VI students, like all VIs, used laptops to type their exams this winter, remarked, “Perhaps the handwritten exam is a thing of the past. When colleges go to 100% laptop written exams, I think we should too.” Yet, though Ms. Skeele went on to mention the benefit of remaining in “handwriting mode at least to some extent” and the value of pen-on-paper for poetry analysis and close-text work, I find myself–even after countless semi-traumatic handwritten in-class writes and exactly eight (I counted) handwritten Winsor English and history exams–almost wishing for the graphite smudge and table-shaking characteristic of my freshman and sophomore exam periods.

Laptops certainly have their benefit, but their place is not, in my opinion, in the exam room. Handwriting has become for many in our technological times a nuisance to be avoided at all cost, but the reality is that you will need to use a real pen every once in a while, like on the still-handwritten SAT essay section and when you forget your laptop at home by accident. Maybe it is just my senior nostalgia kicking in, but I worry about the issue of technological difficulties and the distraction of clicking on a keyboard, things neither the Class of 2014 nor the Class of 1914 ever had to deal with because we were too busy panicking about the location of the nearest pencil sharpener. I worry, most of all, that our phones and computers will start to overtake our lives, and the thought of a computer in an exam room–exactly what I was wishing for all of my sophomore year–seems exactly that.

Exams will be conducted in whatever way Winsor’s teachers decide, but you can choose to leave the laptop in its sleeve every once in a while and write a note instead of an email or make a poster instead of a slideshow. But, take my word for it: nothing builds character like the panic of back-to-back handwritten Winsor history and English essays!