Background: When we prepare exams, we want the students to fill in their name ALL CAPS to avoid problems with reading the names (it's 1000 students, so each signature that's difficult to read is an issue). What is the best way to enforce students to write the name in ALL CAPS?

Note that the sheet on which the exam is printed is somehow limited in space, currently the header looks as below (note that the sheet is actually in Czech, so the shown English version may be suboptimal). We do not want to be strict about this, just to convey the message that the name shall be all caps. Also note that we can't remove the name field and replace it with a student number.

We have considered the following options, but we don't like either of them:

  1. Just tell the students, when they receive the sheet, that the name shall be ALL CAPS (i.e., make no change to the sheet). Problem: they do not really listen to such instructions.
  2. Write "FULL NAME:". Problem: IMHO does not convey the message,
  3. Write "Full name (ALL CAPS):". Problem: this is quite long and limits the space on the header. We would have to move either "Group number:" or "Teacher:" to the next line. This is not good as they are supposed to fill in all three fields, but not fill in "Score:", of course. So we would have to solve this issue as well.
  4. Use placeholders. Ruled out completely due to people often having long names. Also I think it's very difficult to write in placeholder fields quickly and under exam stress...

enter image description here

  • 80
    I think you might be trying to solve the wrong problem: Issue students with ID numbers for their exam papers - keep the numbers in a directory where you can look up the name, group, and teacher of the student each number relates to. besides improving clarity on the papers themselves, this will also help to remove marking bias where teachers mark students more or less favourably based on their name (perceived educational background, perceived country of origin, perceived gender, etc) – Andrew Martin Oct 20 '16 at 9:15
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    If there are other methods you have ruled out (including the placeholders mentioned in another answer) you might want to mention them in you question so that you don't get lots of answers that you have to say "no, we tried that" or "that's not something we want to do" - Just to save you time ;) – Andrew Martin Oct 20 '16 at 9:39
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    In the UK at least, it's very common to place text like 'Please print in block capitals' above the fields where all capitals are required. 'Print' tells people that the letters must be separate, and block capitals obviously tells them that it's all caps. – SGR Oct 20 '16 at 10:22
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    Print the papers out with the names already on them. Then seat them in alphabetical order so you know where to deliver each paper. – mikek3332002 Oct 24 '16 at 5:32
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    @mikek3332002 The time overhead of this approach is huge. – yo' Oct 24 '16 at 16:27

16 Answers 16


You can't cram all the fields in one line. You need lots of room for student name since you have some long ones. Leaving too little space results in unpredictable and ugly user behavior, which will drive up the cost of processing.

enter image description here

As for the "Score" field, consider need to know:

  • NOT the student while he's filling out the test.
  • The teacher while grading.
  • The student after receiving test back.

I suggest a rectangle with no labeling whatsoever. The student will ignore it, because it's unmarked. The teachers know it's for score. The students will figure it out when they get the test back and find an expected score there. Here I tilted it sideways to save space.

This whole thing was rendered in MS-Word, 3 columns. The box is 48-point text, 3 hard-spaces, selected, Tables/Borders/Outside, 2-1/4 point.

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    I'm with you on the Score box 100%. While this is a great answer, I don't like so much the incorporation of the "A" section heading with the student information. Imho, that rightly should come after, don't mix a header for the whole paper's, and the exam content. It makes the A look like it applies to the whole paper too. Also, if a different paper had no section headers, or section titles, you would have to redesign. I would recommend putting the group number on the same line as the name (still gives plenty of room), and the teacher below that. But keep the score box. Just my opinion! – Some_Guy Oct 21 '16 at 14:32
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    @Some_Guy As pointed out elsewhere, the 'A' describes which version of the test they are taking, so is not a section header. It's an identifier for, as you say, "the whole paper." – Dewi Morgan Oct 21 '16 at 14:41
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    @DewiMorgan Then I stand corrected! If this will always be a Single character, then this answer rocks! – Some_Guy Oct 21 '16 at 15:24
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    @Some_Guy Yeah, this seems by far the most elegant solution not just for the capitalization of the name field but for all the other issues raised as well. – Dewi Morgan Oct 21 '16 at 15:49
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    @DewiMorgan now I come to think of it, might wanna add a "staff use only" or "leave blank" in small letters above the box. There'll be 1 student who draws in the box... – Some_Guy Oct 21 '16 at 15:53

You may try the following :

  • Write the name label in all caps (FULL NAME), do not change the other labels. This will act as subtle cue that this must be filled in all caps.
  • Create placeholders for the letters. This will constraint the use of small letters. We usually use small letters in continuous space, the placeholders will disrupt this flow.
  • Add below the placeholder the ALL CAPS hint, in a very small font.

enter image description here

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    Sorry, we considered this and rejected instantly. We've got students with names such as ANASTAZIA EKATERINA VOLGOGRADSKA. They manage to fill in their name somehow (exceeding the field of course), but they manage. The other students with names like JOHN DOE are, IMHO, stressed by having to type in this way. What if they make an error -- does it invalidate their exam? Etc. To me, this appears as way to aggressive. – yo' Oct 20 '16 at 8:58
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    @yo' you don't have to follow all the suggestions, you may try the other two suggestions. – DesignerAnalyst Oct 20 '16 at 9:03
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    Placing instruction equivalent to "ALL CAPS" directly below the line is definitely the most sensible answer. The other two suggestions are good and have their uses but "FULL NAME:" definitely breaks the flow of the form and as OP pointed out, the placeholders do not work well for people with long names. +1 – MonkeyZeus Oct 20 '16 at 13:43
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    @AndrewMartin Fwiw as an american I rarely (if ever) see "block capitals", although perhaps I'm in the dark. I typically see either "All caps" or more likely "Uppercase". – DasBeasto Oct 20 '16 at 14:20
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    I personally hate the placeholders in forms. IMO they make any form harder to fill. – Tero Lahtinen Oct 21 '16 at 9:14

Forcing a user to conform to a standard which makes things easier for you and harder for them is almost always bad UX.

Really your only options are to change the process which consumes the form data to handle lowercase letters or take up additional space on the form to explain why writing in ALL CAPS is beneficial to the user

Add a line of text to the top of the form which says what to do and why...

Write your name in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to speed up the processing of your test scores

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    The way I read the question the "process which consumes the form" are people actually reading the form, with the issue of lower case letters being that it is hard to read the handwriting. I don't think you can really change that process to handle lower case better. I do like that message though, simple verbose solutions are typically the best. – DasBeasto Oct 20 '16 at 13:18
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    Yeah I've seen uppercase letters which are impossible to read as well so maybe the message should say "Please print your name clearly to speed up the processing of your test scores" – DaveAlger Oct 20 '16 at 13:48
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    Well, actually the Czech language has "hůlkovým písmem" as the equivalent of "all caps", and this Czech pair of words implies that the handwriting shall be legible. – yo' Oct 20 '16 at 18:34
  • The problem is that the teachers who grade the exams are also users of the form, from the perspective of me who designs the form. They complain that it's (in general, in average) much easier to decipher the name when it's written in all caps, so this is what we took as a starting point. – yo' Oct 20 '16 at 18:38
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    @BradThomas yep, "kapitálkami" (literally "using caps"), however, I think many people don't know what that means. Then, we also have "tiskace" ("using print type"), but (1) I think some people don't know the name and (2) it has double meaning, could be all caps or non-calligraphic (the standard form of handwriting has been the calligraphic one for ages, it starts to change now though). Third (note how rich the language is...) there's "všechna velká" which literally means "all large"; we use "velké" ("large") for caps when speaking 'purely Czech'... – yo' Oct 22 '16 at 5:12

With 1000 students, this is presumably a so-called "service course" (gen-ed course) where students highly value any points. With that in mind, just make "Question 1" of the exam:

  1. [10 points]: Write out your full name in all capital letters.
  2. Draw a graph of... lorem ipsum dolor sit....

No need to beg or plead, and the students will almost all follow suit the first time (and you should have 100% compliance afterwards).

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    +1 as I know places that do this :-) However, this has two issues: it's passive-aggressive and it doesn't work anyway. – yo' Oct 20 '16 at 20:26
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    @yo' why doesn't it work? The student's don't care if they get the lower score? So they won't complain if they lose 10 points and a whole grade on this ? – Falco Oct 21 '16 at 14:07
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    @Falco, I'm really not sure why OP made those statements. It's not "passive aggressive"; it's a formatting policy enforced by handing out free points. It's also very clear and, in my experience, successful. – user1717828 Oct 21 '16 at 14:09
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    This can mess up averages, std. deviation, and ratio of correct answers. – person27 Oct 23 '16 at 1:04
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    In my university, they used to say: "You have 2 tasks. First, to sign your form, we rate it in 0..1 range. Second, to complete the tasks, we rate it in 2...5 range. Then, we multiply these to get your final score" – mik01aj Oct 24 '16 at 13:51

You can adjust the spacing as you need to, but here's one way:

enter image description here

I would make sure to distinguish the areas that are to be completed by the student versus those needed from an admin perspective (different fonts, shading, layout, etc.).

If you prefer to include the help text of "Print in ALL CAPITAL letters", you can easily move that under the area in which they need to write (as a "small hint"). I can't readily tell which way would have more people following the instructions, so you'd need to test it out.

I do have to state that @AndrewMartin's suggestion to include a unique ID per student would take more work, but would offer numerous benefits as mentioned. It would really make sense to reconsider that method.

Alternate (without horizontal line): enter image description here

  • The issue with Andrew's suggestion is that a) it causes trouble if the student forgets his/er ID and b) (I don't know if it applies to the OPs institution) it makes harder for the teacher in the class to know if the student is writting someone's else ID in the exam (as a form of exam fraud). Also it feels kinda of "unpersonal". – SJuan76 Oct 25 '16 at 8:41

You could move the headers above or below the fields, so that you can provide adequate instructions and also conserve space:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

You can accomplish this in a normal word processing application by setting tab stops at the beginnings and ends of the fields, which you can use on both the underline and label lines to vertically align things.


Too lazy to actually set this out presentably, but I see no reason aesthetically or in terms of real estate not to move the group number below the teacher, and have more space both for long names, and to write "All Caps" or whatever.

Personally I prefer "(BLOCK CAPITALS)" but maybe that's just a British thing.

enter image description here

  • It's not just a British thing, as I used to see this frequently in America, but I think it may be a generational thing, because I'm not seeing it anymore. – barbecue Oct 21 '16 at 1:21
  • In czech/slovak it would be "VELKÝMI TLAČENÝMI" - that means literally "printable capitals" but it also needs subject as "symbols" - "VELKÝM TLAČENÝM PÍSMOM". OP is asking here since he can not use that long string as I understand it. – Kyslik Oct 21 '16 at 11:57
  • @Kyslik or písmEm – RudolfJelin Oct 23 '16 at 18:24
  • @RudolfL.Jelínek In czech/slovak; my examples are meant to demonstrate length of translation for "ALL CAPS". – Kyslik Oct 23 '16 at 19:26
  • @Kyslik I just had an urge to edit out the "czech/", because of the examples :) – RudolfJelin Oct 23 '16 at 19:55

Go for your solution #3: Write "Full name (ALL CAPS):", and move "Group number:" or "Teacher:" to the next line.

Make sure that they don't fill in the "Score:" field by using the same type of box that you appear use for the points scored in each question. Also, get rid of the ...... placeholder for this field to make it clear that this is not space to be filled by the students.


I would suggest something else entirely for this particular problem: Use a dedicated cover sheet that collects all relevant information and allow sufficient time to do so. Anybody who turns to the second page before being directed to do so fails instantly. I have been on both sides of this system and it worked well, even in lecture halls holding 200+ students. (Would have written a comment, just signed up)

  • The exam is exactly one sheet currently. It would become two sheets. But you're right that this is a relevant option! – yo' Oct 21 '16 at 6:19
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    One sheet, front and back already used? That's too bad then. – TAR86 Oct 21 '16 at 6:23

When checking into a hospital in the UK, the receptionist will (after some form filling) hand the patient a slim folder with the patient's medical notes and a sheet of stickers that the medical staff can stick to samples, forms, x-rays, ID bracelets, etc

Supply each student with a sheet of printed stickers showing their name that they can apply to the top of the pages of all their exam sheets. These stickers could be issued when the student joins the course (not recommended for long courses) or at the beginning of exam season and applied to notebooks, coursework, ID badges, etc

  • They wouldn't bring it to the exam and absence of the stickers would hardly be a legitimate (or even reasonable for this matter) reason for disqualifying the student. Look at it from the other perspective -- being kicked out of the university for a stupid sticker? – yo' Oct 21 '16 at 10:23
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    @yo' It seems like you have a very low regard for these students: They don't listen to instructions, they don't read instructions, they won't remember to bring a standardised form of identification... Why not add a persona to the question to help us understand the demographic you are targeting? – Andrew Martin Oct 21 '16 at 10:38
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    I don't have a low regard for the students, I speak of experience. I want --- as much as possible --- to evaluate their mathematical abilities, rather than their abilities to comply with rules that are all new to them (they've been to the university for 5 weeks only). Maybe it's a cultural thing that we prefer not to persecute them for technical mistakes. – yo' Oct 21 '16 at 11:11
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    "Good morning sir, I see you're taking the Advanced Calculus exam today. Excellent. By the way, we don't trust you to be able to write your name." – Dawood ibn Kareem Oct 22 '16 at 20:13
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    @DavidWallace I would be laughing, haven't I not seen all the wrongly filled in headers by students who made a fairly good score in the test! – yo' Oct 25 '16 at 14:46

Attached picture,

  • I would suggest using block where the students fill in the information in CAPS -It will be nice if those blocks include examples on CAPS and muted color.

  • Also, you may need to add some extra information to tell the need of using CAPS. -"PLEASE FILL IN BY CAPITAL LETTERS"



Include a direction saying ‘please fill in using block capitals only’ along with an example in a semi-scripty font so there can be no misunderstanding.

In my opinion, there's no need for placeholder boxes and they can become a problem if people have combined names and such.

  • 1
    Sorry, have you read the question? How does "include an example of ..." go along with "limited vertical space"? – yo' Oct 20 '16 at 11:38

More than an intelligent view of the problem I shall offer you some personal school experience:

  • Many teachers when they want students to do something like writing the name in ALL CAPS they write it on the whiteboard and say it out loud various times during the exam.
  • Some of them like to apply some "pressure" saying if you don't write your name in ALL CAPS your exam will not be evaluated, or something similar.
  • Another thing that can be made the moment the student gives in the exam to the teacher he/she(teacher) can verify if the name is in all caps and if it is not tell the student to re write it.

And I'm happy to say that it really works.


The whitespace at the top seems wasted (especially if the space is limited), I'd shrink the margin down to give more room to write.

I'd also take the chance to split up the first and the last (and middle) name for easier parsing by evaluators.

A short, muted statement should suffice to tell people how to fill the fields.

Here's a poorly done (apologies) Pbrush job showing how I'd imagine the result:

enter image description here

Just an afterthought about the limited space of the sheet: does that "A" need to be so big ( or be on the sheet at all ) ?

  • "A" needs to be big, it's the version, and you need to make sure that neighbours didn't exchange the sheets (that would spoil the distance between students with the same sheet). Actually, the whitespace on top is used by both the students and the teachers to write notes about the exam, such as rewrite the name if it's illegible or so. – yo' Oct 24 '16 at 16:28

Learn from Web. Print the "ALL CAPS PLEASE" message as a placeholder text in a very light shade:

enter image description here

Students will use it like this:

enter image description here

Note: If you are using an LCD screen, you may not notice, but "ALL CAPS PLEASE" is printed in a very light shade of gray inside that box, below "Full Name". You may notice it if you move your head a bit.

Also note that "Full Name" is printed with what I think is the smallest possible font size that can be read without squinting (Calibri, Font size 10), conserving space.

This way, you can conserve the space, and at the same time can be a bit more verbose about your intent.

Note that you will have to experiment with shades of gray. Most of the time the contrast of the shade is different in screen than the printed result.

The other fields can be also packed nicely in a tight fitting if you think of them as a set of blocks.

  • What is Calibri? Is that the MS invention of illegibility? And sorry, this is about the worst idea ever. In web, you can make the letters disappear when the user starts to write in the field. Should I use some sort of nanotechnology to make the letters disappear on the sheet as well? – yo' Oct 25 '16 at 5:39
  • @yo': whoah calm down please. Calibri is the default font on MS Word, which I used to make this. It looks fine in print. I know you use LaTeX and you are totally free to choose different options for fonts. And no, you don't need the letters to disappear. As I have shown in the second picture, people can write over the very light text. In practice it works great. I have done this. If you don't like it that's fine. – sampathsris Oct 25 '16 at 7:44
  • I suspect the web did not invent this mechanism. I've seen it on printed forms for many years, and it seems effective - I think in particular due to being right there where the respondent is writing - locality of presentation is important in any stressful or distracting environment. ("Full name" being written in the box, its font, and the box itself, are distractions from this specific point.) I'd be inclined to omit "please" in these examples, though that may be cultural - this is an instruction, not a request. – jmb Oct 25 '16 at 11:57
  • @jmb Fair enough, I get it. However, I just discussed with the technicians and realized this is impossible as the exam sheets are photocopied and shades of gray could get either lost or way too dark :-( – yo' Oct 25 '16 at 14:44

Example is better than precept, no?

Full Name:................................
Please use capital letters e.g. JOHN SMITH

Basically you won't be able to enforce this though, just suggest it as strongly as you can

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