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Use of Grammarly in Year 12 English exams advantages some Australian students

January 20, 2023

Original Article:

Using an online writing assistant in Year 12 English exams advantages some students, a senior teacher says, as the South Australian regulatory board considers whether it should continue to allow access to the Grammarly program.

SA students have access to Grammarly, which promises to help users write more clearly and avoid mistakes – but authorities say it is not giving students who use it an advantage.

“Let’s not be naive and say ‘grammar, spelling and punctuation don’t matter’ – they do,” senior teacher and the president of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, Alison Robertson, said.

Those who already had Grammarly on their laptops this year were able to access it from within the exam environment during English exams.

Grammarly is a tool that makes suggestions to improve writing. According to its website, Grammarly’s “suggestions help identify and replace complicated sentences with more efficient ones, refresh repetitive language, and uphold accurate spelling, punctuation, and grammar”.

The online exam blocks access to any other browser windows, but Grammarly operates as a plug-in inside any existing window.

SA students started using laptops for exams in 2018, in an Australian first. It is still more common for exams to be handwritten in other states and territories.

The SA Certificate of Education board did not intend for students to be able to access the tool, but now says it’s up to them if they want to use it for remaining examinations.

Interim SACE chief executive, Michaela Bensley, said the community’s main concern has been the use of Grammarly in English Literary Studies and English as an Additional Language, where “precise expression” is one of eight criteria.

But she said the courses were focused on critical analysis, that students already had access to spellcheckers, and that markers would take into account the fact some used Grammarly and others didn’t.

“The focus is on students’ ability to communicate their understanding of concepts, ideas and perspectives … grammar, spelling and punctuation isn’t the focus,” she said.

“Our position is that editing tools cannot assist with analysis or developing a personalised, cohesive argument for an audience.”

But Robertson said while students were already able to use dictionaries and spellcheckers, Grammarly was a “whole other level”.

“Some have effectively been advantaged,” she said.


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