Posted by: kenwbudd | May 20, 2010

Let the Students Go Digital – Analogue is dead

All this week, all over the country, students have been sitting in serried ranks, crouched over desks, manually driving biros over screeds of virgin paper, to the accompaniment of the stifled yawns and squeaking shoes of invigilators. The exams in question are modules of the AS and A2 papers, and they continue into February, in subjects ranging from archaeology to travel and tourism; yet this is no more than a precursor, an amuse-gueule to the grande bouffe in the summer, when literally millions of students, at GCSE, A-level, and indeed degree level will undergo the same ordeal. This ritual has gone on, unchanged in essence, since Cambridge University first introduced written exams in 1792. But isn’t it time we re-examined the whole notion of examinations?

It seems obvious, but is seldom remarked, that students are being obliged to do something that they never do or need to do in real life: write with a pen for two or three hours non-stop. Nobody does that any more. The teachers and academics who will be marking the papers don’t do it. Professional writers – novelists, playwrights, journalists – don’t do it. Pens are for postcards, diary entries, phone messages, making notes, and doodling in boring meetings. For extended, continuous writing, we use computers.


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