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Friday, 13 January 2012

Confessions of an Invigilator

There is geological time, and there is invigilator time and I know which I prefer. The former has no means of measuring itself. A mountain doesn’t get bored. In exam invigilation, however, there are a few tried and tested techniques to prevent terminal brain death.

There is team tag. A sedate activity.

Amidst the two hundred or more candidates seated in uniform lines in a very large hall, invigilators will drift unobtrusively. They will tread with slow but stately precision in pursuit of their victim, who, in turn, will seek to evade them whilst handing out paper.

But when a candidate puts up a hand, noses twitch, eyes swivel. We converge urgent for purpose. Does the candidate need more paper, a pen perhaps, a question only we can answer? A bonus point for the candidate who needs the toilet. The invigilator who reaches him or her first gets to accompany them, gets to leave the hall, indulge perhaps in conversation:

‘How are you finding it?’
Oh joy.

There are other ways of passing the time. You can gaze at faces, speculating on likely careers and professions: the doctor, the dentist, lawyer, fraudster, Griffindor, Hufflepuff…Slytherin…The mind wanders.

Statistically one in four people are gay. I don’t go there. Nor have I ever been tempted by a ‘game’ practised elsewhere: standing by the ugliest candidate. It seems to me that these invigilators have already suffered terminal brain-death. Besides, with my face there would be no competition.

The technique that works for me, and one that maintains maximum concentration, is the ‘wall glide’.

You stand with your back to the wall and every few minutes slide two or three paces to the left. (The adventurous can try the right wall-glide). This technique creates an illusion of purpose. Instead of looking at a clock, you become the clock, for using this technique it takes exactly two hours to circumnavigate a hall. Sometimes, where there are empty chairs strategically placed you can create short term goals, allowing yourself to sit on them five minutes or more.

But always there are the students. I gaze at faces lost in thought, conscious of the faint but earnest noise of pen on paper, a desk scrape, the long and unaccountable sigh. An exam hall is a shrine to hope and purpose, the endless possibilities of life. You make comparisons with what you have done and what they hope to do, which leads to the stupidity of believing your own life is all but over. And that is stupid. Life ends when you die. Until then all is possibility. Even the end of an exam.


Misha Gerrick said...

Hehehe I've also been an invigilator. More than once, actually. My personal high-light would be the guy that stuck chewing gum behind his ear.

And yes, he was chewing when he came out of the venue.

Mike Keyton said...

Was that the candidate or the invigilator...and the gum behind the ear, was it pre-chewed? This one will keep me going for sometime :)

DRC said...

I've not had the pleasure of being an Invigilator - but should I ever get the opportunity I'll remember this post with a smile.

Mike Keyton said...

DRC thanks for the comment, but on a serious note, it's a pretty useful period of time for plotting, running lines of dialogue, even thinking of blog posts. Nature abhors a vaccuum, or in this case invigilation.

Angela Brown said...

Being an invigilator doesn't sound quite so...invigorating, though both words sound like they have the same root.

I couldn't help snickering like a silly girl when your list wondered off into Potter world. Too rich.

Mike Keyton said...

Invig / invig. Interesting. I shall get my son the latin scholar on to this. Ref Hogwarts, maybe invigilators should be called Dementors.

Unknown said...

Love it, although my sympathy is still with the poor candidates.

I think I'd have to prevent terminal brain death by working on plot problems and adding depth to characters. I'm curious about Misha's gum chewing character too. :)

Mike Keyton said...

Shirley I'm curious about the gum too. Ref candidates it would depress me too much to consider the strain they are under - though not all of them. One candidate in an exam called 'Critical Thinking' forgot to put her name and candidate number on the script.

Claudia Del Balso said...

Hi Mike,
Were you a teacher? Hmmm this sounds like is coming from a teacher's point of view. Am I wrong? Let me take another shot, is this coming from Mike, the casual observer? ;)

Mike Keyton said...

Were you a teacher? Yes, I got off for good behaviour.

But these aren't casual observations, I do invigilating during the exam season. It helps with the beer money. And I enjoy the monotony. It allows the subconscious to bubble through.