May 03, 2005

ExamSoft Not So Hot

by Armen

These few weeks law students across the US (and possibly Djibouti) have been typing incessantly on their laptops looking to finish those last minute Oscar Winning Outlines (mine was cited in a Nobel Lecture). Once those outlines are complete, those fortunate enough to be able to print them get to use them on exams.

If you're a non-law student or a lawyer who's been out of law school for a few years, you may be wondering why you need to print out your outlines, notes, Gospels, etc. to use on an exam you'll be taking on a laptop that stores those documents. The answer, of course, is ExamSoft. Supposedly this is the most common software to secure computers during exams--the idea being that you shouldn't be able to e-mail someone at Columbia Law during the exam to get the ultimate answer to a Rules Against Perpetuities question...or something along those lines. To reach this end, ExamSoft locks the rest of your computer and allows you to type your exam on its word processor.

If the law does not concern itself with trivialities, law school exam software programmers certainly don't either. I'm beginning to doubt everything I've learned about the Romans and starting to conclude that "de minimis" was actually an adjective used to describe ExamSoft. It has about as much features as a slate board, which of course means those of us raised according to the Scriptures of MS Word spend about 75% of any given exam sweating over this new "thing" that we're typing on.

The most glaring shortcoming is the disabled spell checker. You can select the dictionary that you want the spell checker to use (for me it's usually American English, except during Property, where I switched to Chaucerish), but you can't use the spell check function. It's just disabled (you know that light gray color that you can't click on). Your law school might be kind enough to allow you to check to see if you've spelled "seisin" correctly, but not here. Considering I've relied on some engineering geek's language algorithms to guide me through writing in school thus far, I find it a bit troubling that when it REALLY counts, this indispensible tool is taken from me. I had my Black's Law Dictionary with me (I learned after the first semester) so I was able to nail the question on the effect of villeinage on property law...with no spelling errors to boot!

Aside from choosing your font (the choices being Times New Roman or Not Times New Roman) and the font size (tall, grande, or venti), there's little else you can do to alter the look or formatting of your text. I had to beg and plead for an hour to get the CAPSLOCK key to work. Even then it only worked about as consistently as the sHIft key. You can't bold, underline, or italicize without advanced programming knowledge in JAVA. Even then, you better know how to debug your code. Hyperbole aside, these are literally the only formatting you are permitted on ExamSoft (and I think you can right, center, or left justify your work. In case you want to use Roman letters to write in Aramaic or something.)

I wanted to draw a kickass bitmap discussing the benefits of adverse possession and insert it into the exam, but no such luck. After writing the 12th chapter on the injustices of current landlord-tenant laws, I wanted to insert a table of contents to aid the professor, but of course, you can do no such thing on ExamSoft (being the clever shrew that I am, I hand wrote one on a bluebook and turned it in separately. The said blue book also contained graphs hand-copied from MS Excel and the PowerPoint slides I would have liked to have created on "The Intersection of Non-Euclidean Geometry and Euclidian Zoning.")

I suppose I need not worry, in no time at all I'm sure Microsoft will roll out a crappier, more expensive version of ExamSoft that will proceed to dominate 99.999% of the secure exam taking software market...including Djibouti's.

May 3, 2005 08:32 PM | TrackBack

You missed perhaps the most annoying part of Examsoft - it's for Windows users only.

Us Mac users always get the shit end of the stick.

Posted by: Nicole at May 4, 2005 10:22 AM

I think that is perhaps the sole redeeming factor of examsoft. There's nothing more pleasing to these eyes than seeing the tech-savy iBook, iPod, iGag users logging into their blue books or shuffling through pages. :)

Posted by: Armen at May 4, 2005 01:45 PM


Sorry to break the news to you...

The California bar exam, and many other bar exams, use Examsoft too. As we used to say in the Army, "embrace the suck", because you're going to have it for a while.

Posted by: Phillip Carter at May 4, 2005 07:08 PM

I find SNAFU to be more applicable in this case.

Posted by: Armen at May 4, 2005 09:09 PM

Don't forget the instruction given at the start of every exam last semester:

"Do not try to use the page break function. It does not work."

Last semester, they made us all upgrade to a new version. The instructions this time around?

"Do not use the page break function. It does not work."

Oh joy.

Posted by: Shiwon at May 5, 2005 01:22 AM

The best part are the professors who e-mail you non-casebook reading materials rather than handing out printed copuies, "to save a few trees." Duh, those trees are going to die anyway when we have to print everything out to access it during the exam.

Posted by: GG at May 6, 2005 09:10 PM

Don't blame Examsoft. Your prestigious law school is the one who has decided to disable the spell checker and the bold, underline, and italics functions. These features all work beautifully at my crappy law school

Posted by: TTT at May 7, 2005 11:35 PM

Umm I think you either missed the sarcasm or the part where I mentioned that if your school is kind enough to allow spell checking then you might spell "seisin" correctly. Lots of luck. Don't forget to use Chaucerish at the default language.

Posted by: Armen at May 9, 2005 03:56 AM

Securexam sucks just as bad.

Posted by: Brian at May 16, 2005 02:59 AM

In doing a search for some material online, I found a link to your blog. I see that this post is fairly older, but I wanted to comment b/c I understand your concern with Examsoft. When I was a student and at the Arkansas Bar Exam, I didn't like that many of the features were turned off, such as spell check, but I used examsoft because I type faster than I handwrite.
I understand why some Examsoft features are disabled. At many schools, students have the option of writing their exam or using examsoft. By turning off these features, it levels the playing field a little more by not providing an exceptional technological advantage to those who are typing. Granted, those typing can usually get more words onto the page, cut and paste, and make corrections without marking out words. That is a huge advantage, but when professors may assess their grades partially on spelling, it just doesn't seem fair that the typers have that extra tool. Maybe when every person is required to use Examsoft that policy could be revised. Hope this helps.

Posted by: jason at December 2, 2005 10:27 AM

We hear you and are preparing to roll out a completely re-vamped version of SofTest. While I can't give you much detail, it's going to address most of the complaints above.

Posted by: ExamSoft_Tech at July 25, 2007 04:28 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Sitting in Review
Armen (e-mail) #
PG (e-mail) #
Craig Konnoth (e-mail) #
About Us
Senior Status