What strikes me as I wade through Part II tripos papers (well, the thing that strikes me that it wouldn’t be out of place to comment on, here and now) is that students are tending to write less than they used to. And I suspect that part of the explanation is this: few students actually ever write at length by hand any more, from one examination season to the next. Weekly essays are invariably word-processed; note-taking in lectures is a dying art (since people often give copious handouts, and students can then just make short scribbles on those); more and more students take their laptops to the libraries to make notes there. So the business of sitting down for three hours pushing pen across paper, fast and furious, must be an unaccustomed physical challenge, for a start. And it’s no doubt even more of a challenge to compose something straight onto the page in a quite different way to what students are now used to. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to do it.
But of course the shorter an answer, the more difficult it is to shine (especially if an answer starts with a bit of routine exposition). Heaven knows what we do about this: but we are surely — sooner rather than later — going to have to come up with a system that doesn’t quite so favour those who have happened to acquire the philosophically irrelevant antique skill of being able to write fast.