With our students completing NAPLAN online for the second year I found myself defending the online test format in various Twitter pile-ons. The anti NAPLAN knives were out in earnest when some schools faced technical difficulties with the online writing test. Luckily our school had few technical issues.

One criticism of the online test format triggered my curiosity. One respondent said NAPLAN online would be a disadvantage to students as they could not type well enough. The Tweet said something like, “Students will be disadvantaged on the online writing test as they cannot type well enough.”

The scientist in me thought this would be an easy hypothesis to test. Can students write or type faster?

I didn’t know the answer and there was much disagreement among our staff when I asked them. Some were adamant that students keyboarding skills would be superior to their speed with a pen whereas others felt handwriting would be quicker.

Action research here we come!

I found a free typing test on human benchmarks.

In the last week of term, when some of our half-year subjects are in wind-down mode, I encouraged teachers to do a controlled experiment.

- Project the typing tutor passage on the board.
- Get students to hand write as many words from the typing tutor program as they could in three minutes
- Then let them use the typing tutor program for three minutes.
- Record the speed of their writing and typing in words per minute.

Here are the Paired t-test results.

Group |
Handwriting WPM |
Typing WPM |

Mean |
18.39 |
29.91 |

SD |
4.78 |
10.48 |

SEM |
0.44 |
0.97 |

N |
117 |
117 |

P value and statistical significance:

The two-tailed P value is less than 0.0001

By conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be extremely statistically significant

We had 117 students do both the writing and typing test. Students were from Years 7,8 and 9; Age 12 to 15. Students could type on average over 10 words per minute quicker than they could hand write.

We looked at gender difference as well.

Group |
Males handwriting words per minute |
Females Handwriting words per minute |

Mean |
16.96 |
19.85 |

SD |
4.85 |
4.15 |

SEM |
0.61 |
0.54 |

N |
64 |
59 |

P value and statistical significance:
The two-tailed P value equals 0.0006 By conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be extremely statistically significant. |

Group |
Males Typing WPM |
Female Typing WPM |

Mean |
27.81 |
29.26 |

SD |
11.94 |
8.75 |

SEM |
1.43 |
1.05 |

N |
70 |
69 |

P value and statistical significance:

The two-tailed P value equals 0.4174

By conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be **not statistically** significant.

Females can handwrite statistically significantly faster on average than males but typing did not show a statistically significant difference between the genders. This is important for us as our boys do perform significantly worse on NAPLAN than our girls. Our boys need all the help they can get. Writing speed may have been one of the contributing factors to their poor performance This disadvantage has now been reduced with the online version of the assessment.

Typing does not disadvantage our students in terms of speed. It may, in fact, advantage them. This experiment adds weight to the argument that the comparability between schools that do NAPLAN online vs schools that are still doing pen a paper may be questionable.

Some other interesting results from the data collected.

Correlations:

If you are a quick writer you are usually a quick typer too.

If you can write quicker you and generally type quicker then, at our school, you tend to have higher academic results.

Correlation between handwriting speed and typing speed |
Correlation between handwriting speed and academic achievement |
Correlation between typing speed and academic achievement |

0.474 |
0.396 |
0.463 |

Correlation is not causation but typing and writing speed appear to be related to school success.

I only looked at writing speed not writing quality. Writing quality is obviously more important. I think it is a given that students would find it easier to edit writing on the computer and whatever they produce will, most likely, be easier to read in text form than in handwritten form. Our students did find spell checking a challenge in the online NAPLAN format as I wrote about here.

In terms of preference for online vs handwriting on NAPLAN, the students were overwhelming in favor of online.

For today’s students, the pen is not mightier than the keyboard.