7.1 – Does Typing Speed Matter?

Transcript

Does Typing Speed Matter?

In this class, I'm going to talk about how you can actually write a really strong essay exam answer, on an essay exam, whether that's an in-class exam or a take-home exam. I'm going to get into the details of the kind of substance of what a good answer looks like, how to get to that point, how to identify issues, and so forth. Before we get into all that, it's helpful just to talk about one issue that's really more about logistics and mechanics, which is about typing speed. Specifically, one thing students have asked me at various points is, "Does typing speed really matter? I'm worried about my performance on the exam. I'm not a super fast typist."

Benefits of Typing Your Exam

(1) Professional, (2) polished, (3) editable

The first thing I want to say is, I said "typing speed" rather than "writing speed," because I do want to stress that if you can avoid it, I would avoid handwriting your exam. Most students are going to type their exam on a computer. You can write more quickly on a computer, your work product is going to look more professional. It's going to look more polished. You can edit on the fly. Is it possible to do well while handwriting an exam? Yes, it's theoretically possible, but in my experience, students generally do better when they're able to type using a computer. If that is an option that's available to you, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of it.

Quality matters over quantity.

That out of the way, how about typing speed? Well, here the answer is, does it matter? Maybe a little bit, but probably not quite as much as you think. I would say that looking at exams, volume of typing, how much the student writes, is positively correlated with higher grades, in the sense that if you write very little, you just can't generate very many points, and so very, very short answers are not likely to be successful answers. There are some students who just write a lot, and they're able to hit a lot of issues and get a lot of points. That said, some of the strongest answers I've seen throughout my time teaching and grading exams were really just of average length.

The thing that made them really good was, they went through the issues that mattered, they dealt with the easy issues quickly, and they spent more time and thus more pages, more words, on the harder issues. In the end, what that added up to was an exam that was not above average in length, but it was significantly above average in quality. What that suggests to me is even if you feel like you are not a world-champion typist, you can produce a very strong exam answer, but that suggests that maybe you want to really focus on, “How can I use my time on the exam efficiently?”

Because on a timed, in-class exam, it's really a little bit of a race, and you want to use that time efficiently. That's one reason why, in the previous lesson I talked about, I don't want you to waste a bunch of time looking up the right answers in your book, in your outline, because you've just used up a lot of time in which you could be generating points on your exam. You want to walk in, knowing as much as you can, having as much of the material of the class in your head, as possible. If it's an open-book exam, it's still going to be okay to look stuff up, to refresh your memory, but the more that you can minimize that, the better.

It doesn't necessarily mean you're typing, typing, typing every second of the exam, because actually, counterintuitively, you might want to take more time not writing, in order to write the most effectively. You might want to take a little bit of extra time at the beginning, really think carefully, really make sure that you outline the answer, and you know what you're going to hit and what you're not going to hit.

What you don't want to do is spend an hour typing out this great answer, and then you go back and look a little bit more carefully at the exam after your heart rate settles down, and you realize that you misread the question, and you've just wasted an hour spotting an issue that isn't there. Or, you come to think of it differently, and you realize you just have to delete that or change your analysis, because the fact that you were typing that whole time is now not going to generate you any points, because you've just wasted a ton of time writing stuff that isn't actually helpful for the exam.

(1) Start typing only after planning an answer structure, (2) locate easy and hard issues quickly

It might mean you take a few more minutes where you really think, and you think, "Okay, what is the answer here? What is the overarching point? What am I going to say? What are the points I'm going to hit, and in what order?" You're not having to keep stopping in the middle and think, "Okay, what do I do now?" You've just got to game-plan. Once you start typing, you can just keep going and not stop.

The other thing you also really want to do is try hard to figure out the difference between easy and hard issues, because if you spend two pages dealing with an issue that's super easy, where it's just, there's not a good argument for the other side, it's clear that this is a violation of the rule, or it's clear that this isn't a violation of the rule, again, that's wasted time. In my experience, the most impressive exam answers are very good at knowing the difference between those two things. How do you figure that out? Well, it's just going to come from experience a little bit, trying to get to know the material and developing a certain amount of confidence in yourself.

If you know the material well enough, you should start being comfortable identifying, “Yes, this is a really clear, easy case, while this is a much harder question. This is much closer, this really is right in the middle of two competing lines of precedent. That's what I have to spend more time on. Let me get these easy issues out of the way, quick three-sentence paragraph for each of those, boom, boom, boom, get those out of the way, and then I'm going to spend the bulk of my time working on these harder issues, and making a lawyerly argument."

If the exam has been designed intelligently by your professor, that's where you're going to generate the most points. You can rack up some easy points with the easy answers, and then there's a lot of points to be gained in the more complex argumentation for the hard answers.

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