A step-by-step approach to writing

Examiners consistently warn trainees over the legibility of their handwriting on exam scripts. We offer advice on how to avoid losing unnecessary marks this time around

handwriting


Trainees are often reminded that large numbers of exam scripts were unreadable – meaning that scores of students probably lost valuable marks simply because markers couldn’t read their answers.

This seems to be an inexcusable way to lose marks, especially when you consider the blood, sweat and tears – not to mention the costs involved – in both studying and revising.

Poor handwriting and layout are often key culprits in low exam marks. And handwriting is an important concern for a number of markers: ‘If markers cannot read what a candidate has written no marks can be awarded.’

It sounds so simple – and it is. Clear handwriting should be considered as an essential part of good exam technique – and while we are not all blessed with good handwriting, the good news is there are a number of simple ways to improve it.

One of the keys to neatness is uniformity – consistency looks best. Try to make sure that all of your letters slant in the same direction at the same angle and that you allow a consistent amount of space between each letter and word.

If this is currently not the case with your writing, begin by practising the letters you (or a family member, colleague, etc) consider most illegible and repeating for several minutes every day as part of your revision. Experiment with the size and slant of your letters to find a writing style that feels comfortable – and looks good and is clear.

Take every opportunity possible in the run up to exams to write longhand instead of using a keyboard. If you need to write a report or proposal, consider doing your first draft using pen and paper; you can polish and edit as you type it up. At the same time, write out to-do lists or shopping lists, rather than using a computer. If none of these ideas appeal, consider maintaining a journal and set aside a little time each day to practise your handwriting strokes.

Please note that you must use only a black ballpoint pen to complete your answers in your candidate answer booklet(s).

On the technical side, you should not be using your wrist and fingers to write – that will lead to cramped, stilted writing, as well as fatigue during the exam.

Instead, your fingers should hold the pen in place and act as a guide, and all the movement should come from the shoulder girdle. Your shoulder and forearm should move as you write, but your wrist and fingers don’t. This helps you write in a more fluid, efficient style. It takes practice and can feel strange to begin with, but these muscles don’t get tired as quickly as those in your wrist and fingers.

On exam days try to remember not to grip your pen too hard. Nerves can cause students to do this without you realising and it will lead to muscle ache and fatigue.

Another tip is to keep your feet flat on the hall floor, don’t slouch and rest your elbows on the desk or table as you write to avoid tiredness. Also, make sure your hands are not sweaty – if you get nervous in exams and are prone to getting sweaty palms make sure you take paper towels or tissues into the exam. Keeping your hands dry will help you to maintain a secure grip on your pen.

"Clear handwriting should be considered as an essential part of good exam technique – and while we are not all blessed with good handwriting, the good news is there are a number of simple ways to improve it."

"On the technical side, you should not be using your wrist and fingers to write – that will lead to cramped, stilted writing, as well as fatigue during the exam"