Blue books are common testing utensils used to provide standardization to written exams, but they lack good incentive for their use and take more time for effective grading. Although some professors and administrators argue the necessity of blue books, I think it’s fair to say the majority of humanities students vehemently dislike them.

But how could a little blue book garner so much criticism from the student body? Their small size definitely plays a role, forcing students to purchase two books prior to their test just to guarantee they’ll have space to finish their responses. There are other concerns involving Binghamton University’s use of blue books, as the books demonstrate both an inequality faced by students of opposing departments, as well as an aging solution to the professor’s dilemma of timely grading.

Blue books are said to have originated at Butler University in the late 1920s, but there have been references to their use at Yale University during the 1860s. Yes, Yale does still use them. After looking at different forums of students online, it seems like it’s not just BU and Yale putting them to use; blue books still carry a presence in most universities’ humanities departments. Multiple companies have capitalized on the niche production of blue books, with BU using books from Roaring Spring Paper Products. One of these companies, Comet School Supplies, has claimed that their production has increased in recent years, which would allow them to turn a higher profit. Is it reasonable that our school and other companies have found an opportunity to profit off test taking in the humanities?

The cost of blue books depends on the university and this price generally ranges from 25 cents to a dollar. At BU, the blank books cost upward of 70 cents. Although the books’ costs are on the high end here, it isn’t necessarily the price that students regard as unfair. Does it seem reasonable that our University charges students to take their exams, which were already paid for in their tuition? If BU intends to charge for their blue books, why wouldn’t they just include them in the tuition of specific classes? That leads me to the main critique that students carry in regard to the books, the fact that students are required to provide them, which adds an inconvenience prior to testing. As a senior at BU, I’ve heard countless stories of peers forgetting to purchase their blue book and then having to sacrifice time on a midterm or final.

Considering that only students in the humanities departments regularly use blue books, it seems like their presence is only inconveniencing one group of people. It’d be much easier for these students to pull out three pieces of loose-leaf paper and begin their test, but this practice is not always allowed. The only justification for the presence of blue books is that they convenience professors by standardizing the written portion of exams, but in many ways they also inconvenience professors. Poor handwriting, partly due to the small size of the books, is a major issue noted by professors on various online forums. I’ve heard many accounts of professors choosing to buy extra blue books for their classes just in case someone ends up forgetting, which forces those professors to spend their own cash to teach their classes. These issues faced by both students and professors are now being mitigated to app-based alternatives.

The idea of the blue book is one that originated during the time of the American Civil War and many essential parts to higher-education testing have changed since then. Now, instead of handwriting large documents, people just type them, and only a few universities are honoring that shift in the realm of test taking. UNC Chapel Hill, another public university, has begun transitioning away from the usage of blue books. In 2008, around 30 professors at Chapel Hill started using a software called Securexam, which blocks all applications on the students’ computers except for a typing program used for the exam. The software is expensive, costing around $30,000 a year, and only 1,000 students used it during exams. Its price tag seems to be a major factor in why other universities haven’t made the switch; the advantages of it show the necessity of a cost-effective computerized method of test taking. On the teaching end, professors report that they can grade two to three times more papers a day while utilizing Securexam, because they are not being forced to decipher handwriting and the software increases standardization of testing. The presence of a computerized alternative to blue books would remove the more than 150-year inconvenience, as well as create fairer conditions during written exams for students with disabilities.

The development of a reasonable alternative to our current testing methods would not only be more convenient, but also potentially promote higher performance from both professors and students. When blue books were first integrated in university teaching, they were supplied by their respective colleges. Now, institutions with endowments exceeding billions of dollars pretend as if they cannot afford to supply them. The monetization of education has played a role in perpetuating the blue book system, a system that disadvantages those who do not study the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. I think it’s ridiculous that this school charges specific students any money to take an exam, regardless of the amount. While our school builds massive new buildings for those in STEM programs, they continue to make humanities majors pay to take tests they’re already charged tuition for.

Sam Pomichter is a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience.