For those law school students who have the option of using a computer or hand-writing an exam, here are some factors to consider before presuming that the benefits of typing outweigh those of writing by hand.
Today I took the first of my 2L exams. After traveling through a blizzard to make it to school, I was unpleasantly surprised when my computer, running ExamSoft‘s Softest application, hung on restart and deleted my test template.
I could still take the exam, having lost only a few minutes to the rip-the-battery-out-and-pray battle with my Vista system, but it required a lot more physical effort, putting a pencil to paper in a dreaded “blue book” (not to be confused with the alternate law school enemy, the Blue Book).
After a few deep breaths, I recalled the fundamental rules for writing out a law school essay by hand:
- Outline your answer first
- Use lots of subheadings
- Double-space and write legibly
When I finished the exam, with just a minute to spare, I was disheartened by the fact that my essay was probably many fewer words than my classmates’ and that my handwriting might be off-putting to the professor. But then I thought about some of the benefits of being forced into the hand-writing scenario:
- I was darn sure about what I wrote before I wrote it. Writing by hand takes much more precision than the stream of consciousness created by typing frantically for three hours straight.
- I had zero post-exam stress about the test file uploading or submitting correctly. In fact, it was quite cathartic to walk to the front of the room with a tidy stack of papers, literally leaving it behind me when I walked out.
- My exam will stand out. I guess this could be good or bad. But let’s say the prof is facing a pile of identical printouts and just a few hand-made essays. I would like to think that having my exam read first, or last, might be a good thing. If nothing else, the professor will probably have to read my exam more slowly, which I can only hope means he won’t skim over any bits that will garner some points.
The lesson here is that there is benefit in thinking through a problem deeply enough to put it into words on a tangible page. Whether or not you choose to hand-write any of your exams, it can’t hurt to approach every essay as if your professor was going to be muddling through your chicken-scratch: make it worth reading.
Good luck to all the other law students who are currently suffering through exams!