Improving your handwriting: why and how?

For most of us, typing has become second-nature and for some, you might not be putting the pen to use until you are forced to do so when you sit that next exam. We’ll cover how to find your flow and make sure your handwritten work is actually legible.

a month ago   •   4 min read

By Michaela Spiteri
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash


For most of us, typing has become second-nature and for some, you might not be putting the pen to use until you are forced to do so when you sit that next exam.

Without this practice, it's likely your handwriting is pretty hard to read or isn’t quite up to speed. We’ll cover how to find your flow and make sure your handwritten work is actually legible.

Why should you try to improve your handwriting?

You’re probably questioning whether it is worth spending the time to improve your handwriting considering that most of the work we complete is online. You might feel that your time would be better spent typing up study notes or an essay – while this is fair (typed notes are much easier to organise, go back and edit, include graphics etc etc), most of our exams are still hand-written.

Maximise your marks

Believe it or not, the marker actually needs to be able to read your exam to assess you accordingly and give you the fairest mark. Don’t get me wrong – the time spent studying, frantically jotting down answers to practice questions, is super important. But…  if, come exam day, the marker can’t read that really good sentence that you’ve spent hours finessing, unfortunately you’ve wasted your time! Efficient, legible handwriting is often overlooked – but it’s the key to getting the mark you deserve and ensuring those extra marks aren’t lost in translation.

Learning benefits

As I mentioned before, it might be easier or more time efficient to type up your notes or practice questions, but handwriting is directly linked to increased memory retention and learning. The brain power used to physically form the letters on the page (as opposed to simply hitting a key) is proven to maximise our ability to remember what we have written, in both the short and long term.

It might not be realistic to complete all your work in handwritten form, but completing the majority of your essays, practice questions and summary exercises (such as mind maps or concise, summarised notes) will seriously benefit you in the long term. While it might be a difficult transition at first (if you’re totally reliant on the keyboard), handwriting when you study will help build your hand strength, legibility and speed which you will need for your written exams.

How to improve your handwriting?

(1) What’s the problem with your handwriting?

First of all, it’s important to understand why your handwriting requires attention. Are your teachers and peers finding it difficult to read?  Is your hand struggling to keep up with your thoughts when you go to write? Does your hand ache after you spend more than 20 minutes gripping the pen? These are all valid reasons as to why it's worth investing the time to improve your handwriting.

You’ll often have no trouble deciphering what you’ve written on the page so you should ask one of your friends or teachers why they are having trouble decoding your letters that look more like hieroglyphics. Perhaps your letters are too slanted? Or maybe the letters are too blended, making it hard to distinguish between each one? Are you forgetting to dot your Is and cross your Ts?! Once you work out the root cause of your problematic handwriting, you can attack the problem and find your flow.

(2) How’s your grip?

Checking your pen grip is another good start to addressing the problem. You should be holding your pen in the ‘tripod grip’ – using your thumb, index finger and middle finger. Your thumb should be a little bent, with your index finger on the top and middle finger on the side of the pen. It’s also important that your grip isn’t too tight as this will make your hand tired and cramped – make sure your grip is firm but relaxed.

Also make sure you’re not applying too much pressure to the page as this can contribute to messy letters and disrupt your flow!

(3) How’s your posture?

Bad posture could be another factor contributing to your poor handwriting – your back needs to be straight (no slouching!), feet firm on the floor with hips, knees and ankles at a 90 degree angle. Make sure you’re using a good chair that supports this position and allows your desk to match your waist height!

Use your other hand to secure the page, slightly tilting it towards your writing hand. This correct posture will once again prevent joint fatigue and ensure any muscle strain is evenly distributed.

(4) How’s your pen?

Make sure you find the pen that’s right for you and supports your handwriting style. As a left-hander myself, it was super important that my pen had minimal smudging but was still smooth enough to allow me to write in cursive and FAST! Also look for pens with a rubber grip that can minimise pressure on your fingers. Finding the perfect pen might involve some trial and error but you’ll know when you find your match!

(5) Strengthen your hand muscles

Maybe you’ve come across the classic battery hack – adding weight to your pen while you practise can help build up your hand strength so that when exam day rolls around and you remove the weight, you’re writing at lightning speed. Just make sure that you don’t add too much weight too quickly – treat it as if you would at the gym… you’re not going to bench 100kg on your first day so build up little by little.

(6) Spend time writing slowly and neatly... then build up your speed

If you spend all your time with the incentive of writing as quickly as possible, naturally you are going to neglect legibility (which is just as, if not more important). Dedicate certain tasks to writing as neatly as possible, paying attention to everything we mentioned earlier – grip, posture, spacing of letters etc.

Once you feel like you’ve got your legibility under control, start to slowly increase your speed without impacting the legibility — this will require time and practice so it’s important that you try to handwrite as frequently as possible (I’m talking every day if you can!)

And... if you're requiring some extra assistance we can hook you up with one of our amazing tutors who can help keep your handwriting and study on track!

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