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?’
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.