Handwriting v. Typing Your Exams

           The choice of hand writing or typing your exams is a tough one. Although I am a proponent of hand writing for several reasons, there are definite pros and cons that you should weigh when making your decision:


           Grading: One of the biggest fears about hand writing is the fear that your grade will suffer due to factors including: less readability, slower writing, and an inability to cleanly edit. These factors could affect your grade if you are an extremely sloppy writer or have no organization, but such sloppy typing and poor organization can just as easily hurt a typing grade as well.


           Note: From my personal experience, and from the experiences of other hand-writers, I can tell you that you are not at a grading disadvantage when handwriting as long as you: organize your answer before responding, write in block letters, and develop a system for editing. I was a writer and consistently scored above the average (or even in the top) of the exam's curve. Additionally, several of my friends were hand-writers and also ranked in the top of our class throughout law school. This is obviously not a guarantee, but the sample is large enough to show that hand written exams are not doomed to failure.


        Organization: Handwriting forces students to spend time organizing their thoughts before answering questions. Most typers will begin typing immediately after reading the question, knowing that they have the ability to go back and edit if needed. While this typing technique would work if they actually went back to edit, most students are in too big of a rush in their quest to type the longest answer possible rather than go back and improve the quality of their answer. I would suggest that all writers begin with an outline before any typing or writing begins, this will improve your answer immensely.


          As for typers, having the ability to edit is useful if it is used, and if you were to outline first, answer, then review your answer for editing needs, you would have a definite organizational advantage over writers. The only problem here is that most professors don't knock off points for things being out of order, as long as the answer is in there. So hand-writers won't loose many points just because their conclusion changed and appears further down the answer than it should. Don't get me wrong though, if your answer is a jumbled mess, you will likely see a loss of points.


          Speed: Typing is somewhat faster than handwriting word for word, but in a law exam, wordiness is definitely not needed. On your average exam, a hand-writer has plenty of time to address all of the issues, but if the exam is longer than most, the typers may have the advantage of addressing more issues than the hand-writer (as long as they focus on recording the issues and avoid getting too wordy). Legal writing should be minimalistic, and such writing will increase the number of points you can get per sentence/minute, which is why you should master legal writing whether you are a typer or hand writer.


         Legibility: Typing definitely has an advantage here; there is no question as to whether a professor can read the printed output of computers, while there is always the question of handwriting legibility. These concerns can be mitigated though, because handwriting can be equally legible as long as you stick to basic block/print letters which are quick and simple to write.


          Editing: Again, typing has the advantage of allowing students to go back and reorganize or change their answer, but there is often little time for massive edits. Handwriting can also give you the ability to edit, although less neatly. For hand-writers, all you need to do is write only on every other page and possibly every other line so that yo can add more paragraphs and words if needed, then mark where the edit belongs by drawing arrows. This is an acceptable method by most professors; most professors will tell you that these exams are not tests on neatness, spelling, or grammar, but only your ability to apply the proper law to the proper facts.


           In conclusion, although there are pros and cons to both handwriting and typing your law school exams, I believe the advantages and disadvantages are a wash and that hand writers are on even ground with typers. There are no major reasons to choose one over the other, but if you hand-write, you are guaranteed to not experience a computer crash during an exam (it happens all too often). Once you have chosen your method, look at ways to maximize the points available on essay answers.