In-Class Essays Hurt So Good

All of us have been there. It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Friday, you have just completed a somewhat successful caffeine-fueled all-nighter, and you are now sitting in a lecture hall preparing to take your last final of the quarter. Two hours later, your right hand — or left hand, if you happen to be a genius by no choice of your own — feels like it has been participating in a never-ending arm-wrestling match with a malevolent celestial creature for whom sleep and rest are unnecessary. The only clear solution is to drink until you can no longer feel feelings.

In-class essay finals are behind these frequent appendage crises. Students are told to sit there and write out everything they have learned in the entire second half of the quarter in a large blue book. Our generation hasn’t had to hand-write anything since that time in the third grade when we were deceived into believing that cursive would come in handy someday. It never did, and besides, print isn’t much easier on the wrist anyway.

No need to jump to unnecessary conclusions here; multiple-choice finals are certainly much worse. And there is nothing terribly wrong with asking students to be prepared and knowledgeable enough about class topics to compose halfway-decent essays on the spot. But this torture of the phalanges has to go. There must be an easier way.

Good students with high GPAs will tell you that although they could barely finish articulating their handwritten thoughts in the two hours allotted for finals, and they had to skimp on the last essay because of the expiring clock, they were able to type double that in half the time during the preceding all-nighter of studious preparation. All of us are used to typing everything these days. We have spent the entire quarter taking notes on our laptops, and we have used them to do all of our studying as well. Why can’t there be a way for us to type out finals in class?
One way to do this would be to provide extremely cheap laptops with limited functionality and basic word processing capabilities in class; this would ensure that students would only be typing up their final essays and not looking up the answers on Wikipedia. This would cost money, but there are some ridiculously cheap laptops out there to be had (read: Hewlett-Packard netbooks, which are a mockery of modern technology but would suffice for our purposes).

Besides, it’s not like the UC system is opposed to somewhat unnecessary additional spending. (Has anyone seen the new “hyper-wall” in the Student Center?) In drafting the proposal for such an undertaking, final approval from the UC would probably be more likely, not less likely, if the spending was obviously totally wasteful. While we’re borrowing another trillion dollars from China so that we can keep the ridiculous Bush-era tax rates for millionaires, let’s see if they can throw in a few thousand cheap laptops for us here at UCI.

Holding finals in a controlled computer lab would be another potential solution, and would reduce costs by allowing multiple classes to use the same computers for typed essay finals. Maybe we could use those computer resource centers found in some on-campus buildings that nobody uses for anything ever. We could even hold finals in Gateway Commons and tell the freshmen that they have to leave and that there is plenty of room to study in Aldrich Park.

At the very least, we could all type out the essays in class on our own personal laptops, forcing professors and TAs to have to constantly patrol the classroom to ensure academic honesty. But let’s be honest — it’s not like they’re busy. They’re just standing there sipping over-foamed lattes, daydreaming about Johnnie Walker Black and watching us take our finals anyway, right? Might as well put them to work and make them earn those miniscule and morally unfair salaries and stipends. This scenario would admittedly be a logistical nightmare in a 350-student class, but maybe this could lead to the hiring of an army of “essay final supervisors” whose only duty is to walk around and watch students type out essays at the end of each quarter. Somebody call President Obama! We finally have an answer to the question of job creation that has obviously left him completely baffled for the last two years.

Other solutions to the conundrum could also be explored, but the benefits to the academic environment are numerous. One obvious positive benefit is that students would have the time to articulate their thoughts completely, without fear of running out of time to answer every part of every question. This would ensure that professors and TAs would be able to more accurately evaluate the knowledge of each student on material covered in class. Also, professors and TAs would be relieved from the burden of having to interpret the illegible hieroglyphics that are the last third of any handwritten in-class essay. Another benefit would be the demise of blue books and the associated waste of paper involved there. Most importantly, all of us would not have to put our hands and wrists through needless torture that puts us all at risk for future tendonitis and other finals-related health problems.

Charles Hicks is a fourth-year religious studies major. He can be reached at