Days of Invigilation

I’ve now collected the scripts from my second examination – held on Saturday – and will spend the next day or two marking them and combining the exam grades with grades from class tests and projects to produce a final score.

When I went to collect the scripts for my first examination on Thursday at the end of the examination, I had to wait a little bit for them to be collated and sealed in their official packet. While that was going on I chatted to a member of staff who was putting out papers for the next examination. She was giving out about how students often move the desks when they leave, requiring them to be put back in position before the next examination.

The invigilator also expressed irritation about the system of ID cards. Each desk in the examination room has a card with a unique number on it placed in the right front corner (as seen by the student). During the examination, students are supposed to place their ID card on the desk so an invigilator can check the identity of the candidate. The student ID cards at Maynooth are about the same size as a credit card, as are the cards with the numbers. Apparently many students place their ID card directly over the number card, obscuring the number and requiring the invigilator to lift it up in order to do the crosscheck. As things go, it seems a mild transgression, but I suppose it makes an already boring job even longer for the invigilators.

Years ago, academic staff had to invigilate their own examinations. I had to do this in my first teaching job at Queen Mary and, later, at Nottingham but more recently the job has generally been done by support staff rather than academics. I moved from Nottingham to Cardiff in 2007 and don’t think I ever had to invigilate examinations there., so I haven’t done it for 16 years or so. Nowadays we are just expected to be “on call” to deal with any queries that arise in the Exam Hall by phone.

I’m not sorry that I no longer have to perform this task, as it was always one of my least favourite jobs, and not only because I don’t enjoy seeing people under stress. Initially I thought supervising an examination might allow me time to do something useful, but there always seemed to be some interruption, such as students wanting an extra answer book, or asking about some issue with the examination paper, or wanting to leave to go to the toilet, etc.

The most dramatic interruption I can remember was when a student who suffered from epilepsy had a seizure in the examination hall. Fortunately we invigilators had been briefed as to what to do in such an eventuality, namely to move the furniture so the student didn’t hurt themselves but otherwise not to intervene until they went to sleep – which usually happens after a minute or two. We were told that such an episode was unlikely as the student was taking medicine to prevent them occurring. It was quite when it actually happened, but happily the student recovered quickly but was perfectly OK afterwards. Apparently he had been so busy preparing for the examination that day he had forgotten to take his medication in the morning.

Having given up on the idea of doing some other work during an examination, I used to take a few crosswords to do. These are good for passing the time because you can solve a few clues at a time. Other things I used to do included walking around counting the number of right-handed and left-handed students, for example, though I never did any detailed statistical analysis of the results.

The primary purpose of invigilation is to prevent cheating or other misbehaviour, and I only ever saw a few examples of that – most of them involving calculators with, e.g., graph-plotting facilities which are not allowed.

Anyway, I’m glad I no longer have to invigilate examinations, and that makes me all the more grateful for the people who do. Here in Maynooth there are three examinations per day during the Examination Period, with a brief period between to put out the next set of papers, which means a long day for those who do this job. Hats off to the dedicated staff of the Exams Office at Maynooth who carry out this thankless task three times a year!

One Response to “Days of Invigilation”

  1. Gary Mathlin Says:

    Here in Bath, academics are expected to do take a turn acting as Chief Invigilator with one or two assistants. About a month before the start of the examination season, the admin people send around a spreadsheet with the dates, times and venues of exams that have to be invigilated for us to choose. I always try to get my choice in early so that I can pick an exam on the first day of the examination period and get it over and done with.

    Pre-pandemic, most of out exams were 2 hours long, with a few 1 hour papers for ‘half’ units. During the pandemic – like everyone else – we moved to online, open-book, un-invigilated exams. Because students needed to scan and upload their handwritten answers, an extra hour was added on to the exam duration.

    Now the world has returned to normal, we have reverted to in-person, invigilated examinations. To help students, some of whom have done all their important exams during the pandemic, we have made our exams ‘open note’, where students are allowed to take one handwritten A4 crib-sheet into the exam. And also, although we have been instructed to set papers that should take the usual 2 hours to complete, the duration has been extended to 3 hours to give students an extra chance to check their work.

    I spent last Monday afternoon from, half-past one to half past four, wandering up and down the isles of an exam hall while our second years wrestled with ‘Electromagnetism I’. At least, for me, that’s it for this exam season, the same students were back doing my ‘Planets and Exoplanets’ paper last Friday afternoon. I now have to set about marking the scripts over the next week, while preparing for Final Year Project Viva Voce exams next Wednesday and Thursday.

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