- ‘Handwriting still remains a problem for some.’
- ‘If markers cannot read what a candidate has written no marks can be awarded.’
- ‘Illegible handwriting and poor layout of answers is a common feature of students’ scripts.’
- ‘What we cannot read we cannot mark.’
- ‘Illegible handwriting and inadequate presentation helped to add to the unsatisfactory pass rates.’
These are all real comments from examiners following the past few sittings – comments that continue to highlight the problem of poor handwriting as an important issue – and an area that continues to let down trainees in the exam hall.
Trainees are constantly reminded that too many exam scripts are unreadable – and clearly candidates are more likely to be losing valuable marks if the markers can’t read their scripts. The examiners for Papers F7, F8, P3 and P4, P7 are among those in recent sittings to complain about poor handwriting.
The question is, what can be done to improve handwriting and what do prizewinning trainees themselves recommend?
Improve your writing
The starting point for trainees who are unsure of the legibility of their handwriting is to check with lecturers and peers as to whether it is generally regarded as acceptable.
Melanie Jolliffe, winner of the bronze medal at the December 2013 exam sitting, says: ‘As my handwriting is quite legible I didn't need to ask for advice and I certainly never got any feedback to say that lecturers were having difficulty reading my writing. However, I would ask for their advice and feedback if I felt it would benefit me.
‘Lecturers read your handwriting when you hand in homework assignments, so they are in a great position to give you feedback. Furthermore, a third party or different pair of eyes will give you impartial and independent advice as you may think your writing is fine as you are used to reading it.’
If you agree to improve your handwriting skills, there are a number of simple tips that can put you back on the right course with tidy and legible writing.
The first thing to do is experiment with different styles of pen until you find a type and style that works for you. There is of course a raft of different sized nibs or balls that give a variety of thicknesses.
Look for a pen that is comfortable to hold and where the ink flows smoothly without your having to push too hard on the paper. The right pen can also save you valuable time in the exam. If you are left-handed, buy a specially designed left-hand pen.
Also, check your grip because it should be light yet supportive and there should be no undue tension in your hand position and no squeezing.
You then need to consider whether your posture is right – after all, you will be sat still for several hours. You should sit up straight yet relaxed, with your non-writing fingers curled under your hand and your hand position resting lightly on the table.
Once you have a comfortable writing position in the exam, try not to alter your alignment too much. When it becomes awkward to move your hand position down the page to write the next line, try moving your answer paper up instead of your hand.
Having the right pen, correct grip, and good posture is worth nothing if you are drawing the letters with your fingers. Strange as it sounds, you should not be using your wrist and fingers to write – that leads to cramped, stilted writing, as well as fatigue.
In the run up to exams take every opportunity to write longhand instead of on a keyboard. Write out to-do lists rather than printing out using a computer, and start maintaining a journal.
Practice makes perfect
Practising your handwriting for a few minutes each day should help you start to see improvements quite quickly.
Rebekah Debono, the silver medallist at the December 2013 exam sitting, tells Student Accountant: ‘I think that good handwriting is very important in exams. You could write an excellent answer to a question, but if the marker can’t make out what you’ve written because your handwriting is illegible, then you won’t pick up any marks.
‘Writing for three hours can be really hard work on your hand and wrist, so practising lots of exam questions prior to the exam date helps you to write quickly and clearly (using particular layouts). It is very easy in exams to get carried away and your writing then gets messier and larger. I have found myself doing this on many occasions in an exam and then realised I needed to make my writing tidier.’
‘I don’t think the key is writing beautifully, it’s writing clearly so that the marker can read what you’ve written. I definitely think you could easily lose marks if the marker cannot read what you’ve written.’
Jolliffe agrees. She adds: ‘I practised a lot of exam questions during revision and this helps improve your handwriting especially under stress and time pressure which mirrors the exam environment. I also completed many questions under exam conditions (ie in the time allocated to you in the real exam) to make sure my handwriting was still legible under pressure.