Markers call for more pupils to use scribes
Examiners have complained of a rise in illegible handwriting and called for more pupils to use word processors or scribes in GCSEs.
But they have also said pupils should beware spell-checkers and online dictionaries after some embarrassing mistranslations.
The concerns are noted in reports produced by examiners for Edexcel, the second largest board, which analysed students' papers this summer. Handwriting was highlighted in subjects including English and drama, but the most critical comments related to citizenship.
"Some handwriting is a pleasure to read, but an increasing minority is bordering on the illegible," the report said. Teachers who believe handwriting is so poor that examiners may not be able to read it can apply for students to receive extra support during the exam. A specialist teacher will normally carry out an assessment. Those who can write fewer than 10 words a minute can request permission for a scribe.
The number of times pupils have arranged to use a scribe in a GCSE or A-level exam rose from 28,324 in 2005 to 40,215 last year; occasions when they have used word processors have risen during the same period from 14,222 to 21,713.
Suzanne Tiburtius, information officer for the National Handwriting Association, said that children's handwriting had become "immeasurably worse" in recent years.
She believes that teacher training needed to improve because research had suggested that less than half of teachers had received any instruction on the subject during their PGCE courses.
Word processors may assist some pupils, but examiners have noted problems when students rely on spell-checkers. In their report on drama, examiners said spell-checkers could "seriously let candidates down".
"Many candidates talked at length about the 'convocations' they were analysing," they said. "And somewhere there is a spell-checker that converts misspelling of 'slang' to 'slag', which in several cases materially altered the meaning of what the candidate was trying to say."
Similar problems could occur with online translators. The report on the German paper said: "Few instances of the use of online translators were reported, although one candidate had managed to produce 'Fischpanzer' for 'fish tank'."
"Big Brother and The X-Factor are harmless fun, but a general election is obviously a key element in representative democracy and it was very disappointing that very few candidates appreciated this."
"One candidate claimed to have played football alongside Rio Ferdinand and undertaken a month-long scientific expedition to the Amazonian jungle. The veracity of a candidate's answer is not an issue, but the quality of expression is."
"It should be noted that programmes such as The Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted (above) are not specifically religious programmes.
"One unexpected oddity was the fact that some weaker candidates read 'electoral' as 'electrical' and explained why industry needed that. A surprising number of candidates seemed not to know, or were very unsure, about who 'the Tudors' were."
"The new topic of Britpop was the greatest success for this component."
"Many thought that Heidi Klum was just advertising perfume rather than bringing out her own brand."