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Exam writer

By Murray Bourne, 05 Mar 2006

I was supervising an examination last week. The students were required to write 3 essays in 2 hours.

They were well-prepared and had a lot to write. (I was impressed how they prepared their essays beforehand and were genuinely into the process.)

But there is a problem with this scenario. If you were to ask me to write anything longer than a 2-line shopping list, I will do it on computer. The thought of writing 3 essays by hand is really scary to me. And I would pity the poor marker who would have to read my scrawl. We have all become used to the convenience of word processing. Writing vast amounts by hand seems retrogressive. Lettng the students use their own laptops in examinations is fraught with security concerns.

What would be cool would be a cheap networked device that would have just a keyboard, mouse and a monitor. The device would deliver the exam question precisely at the start time. The students would type their essays, using something like Google Docs. It would save at regular intervals. When finished, the students would just click "Submit". The examiner would have immediate access to the students' essays, so he/she could begin the joyful task of marking.

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) testing system in the US has such a concept. Students take the whole test in computer labs.

We've done a lot of computer testing here. But I think many of the problems (security, reliability) occurred because we were using a desktop-based system. If we use a client-based system (harking back to pre-desktop days) with a central server, this may be a solution.

See the 1 Comment below.

One Comment on “Exam writer”

  1. K. Crossland says:

    M1, I would agree that writing vast amounts by hand is retrogressive for the reasons you've given, and add another one. For those like me (an old goat cozying up to 50), having happily made the transition to writing almost entirely on a computer rather than by hand, the writing process has changed fundamentally. The prospect of writing more than a few sentences in longhand now seems like a chore and even inefficient. I don't like the fact that I can't easily change the structure of a sentence in mid-thought or readily substitute a better word, which if done in longhand would be a bloody mess with words scratched out, phrases scrawled between lines, carots to splice in a qualifying phrase, circled words with arrows, and other editing hieroglyphs. Writing on the computer involves more "backing and filling", I'd say, but when I finish an idea or a paragraph it's much closer to the final draft that writing in longhand would ever be. In short, I've become accustomed to rewriting as I go along. It's my view that the technology has changed the psychology of writing. And I think that's worth keeping in mind when asking students who may have grown up composing on a computer to switch modes and write essays by hand.

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