Friday, 17 January 2014

Exam time!

Yes, weeks 13 and 14 are as ever exam weeks. And that means that we’re all involved in invigilation at some point.
I’ve had to be present in three -  in one large one where I acted as the “senior”, i.e. the person in charge, one slightly smaller one where I was just another invigilator and I also had to supervise one student who was allowed to sit his exams apart from others and who was allowed a little extra time.
That was about eight hours in total.
We’re not supposed to read or mark whilst we invigilate. So it’s actually taking quite a bit of our time. However, we can do some work when we’re just supervising an individual student. I actually managed to read a third of Primo Levi’s If This is a Man / The Truce. It’s a set text on a module in which I’m lecturing next semester. I’m not talking about that book but as it’s so fundamental to that course it seems important to read it.
The other exams, though, seem to rob us of time.
And yet. It’s actually quite a useful thinking space. You have to be there. No one can expect anything else of you at precisely that time. Everything stops. You can clear your head. It’s incredibly peaceful.
If you do have to take a student to the bathroom, the contrast as your walk out into the “real world” is startling. One moment old-fashioned library silence. The next the normal hustle and bustle of the campus.  
It’s all quite formal – put your bags at the front / back / turn off your mobile phones / no notes allowed in coats or pockets, no one to leave in the first hour or the last fifteen minutes. By being here you are saying you are fit to take the exam. Papers are stamped with a random number to prevent later substitution. Names are hidden. Each student has an allocated seat. Toilet breaks are recorded on the student’s paper and we have to search the toilets before the beginning of the exam.
Yet today the paper-setter who is also the senior invigilator puts them at ease with a joke before they start.  
There’s quite a bit to do, in fact. Give out the papers, read out the instructions, check IDs, take students to the bathroom, sign out those who finish early, answer questions, find spare pens and collect in the papers. And in between those activities you patrol, and sit, and think. You’re in a bubble, out of your normal world. The time passes surprisingly quickly.  
Then, when it’s all over comes the marking. I don’t have any exam marking but I’m in the middle of a heap of coursework. We have to get on: the external examiner and the exam board need them.
The bubble was nice while it lasted.