Saturday, June 10, 2006


From my perspective as an invigilator of exams, the main task during a three hour paper is to stay awake. From the students' perspective, my main task is to give them more paper when they run out. From the university's perspective, my main function is to make sure nobody resorts to "unfair means", i.e. cheats.

The exams show is run by the examination office and the various departments, and overseen by the university internal police, the proctors. I was surprised to find out that the word 'proctor' has no etymological link with the Greek word proktos, the origin of words like proctology etc. Nevertheless, I suppose anally following and implementing largely irrelevant or archaic rules is seen as part of the vital tradition of the ancient university, as the sine qua non of its academic excellence. Never could I guess that allowing only water to the exam halls would be the "Ravens of Tower" of Cambridge...

The candidates are allowed to bring a small bottle of water with them for the three hour exam. In the invigilator training this vital issue is discussed in more depth and detail than any other issue, including fire alarms and people falling ill during exams. The only thing that gets an equal amount of airtime in the two hour training is how to prevent cheating. Cheating, to my experience, is the only thing that is even less problematic in the exams than the supposed chaos and havoc caused by orange juice and Lucozade.

During the exams, the proctors go around Cambridge, from hall to hall in their gowns and mortarboards, checking that all rules are followed. Since the drink issue is of the highest importance in running the university exams, it's no surprise that the purpose of these visits seems to be to spot potentially hazardous apple juice bottles among the Evians and Highland Springs. Last week, one of the proctors found two suspicious containers in the classroom I was invigilating. One guy had a can of Red Bull in addition to a bottle of water on the floor next to him. The Proctor was clearly deeply shocked to discover this, as he twitched (on the British Scale of Expressing Emotions this equals to 6.8 on a Richter Scale), and then told me "the gentleman up there has a can of beer." This shows how up-to-speed these people are with the so-called real life, and so I advised him that it's just an energy drink. To which he stated that it is still an "illicit drink" and that I should confiscate it immediately. So I did. He then, having discovered how I had completely neglected my duties and not properly screened the room for these hazardous chemicals, continued hawk-eyeing the room, and spotted something suspicious. He pointed to me that the "gentleman in the yellow shirt" had a "non-transparent bottle". I looked up and saw this dude at the back, in a faded yellow t-shirt, and he had a bike bottle on his desk. I confessed that I hadn't checked the contents of that bottle, to which he said "you probably should". I didn't.

I think bothering people with nonsense during their exams is not the best thing you can do, when you are there to bring them more paper so they can keep writing incessantly for the three hours the exam takes. It would be rather silly, wouldn't it? But, undoubtedly the illicit drinks debackle will only gain in momentum, as next year in the training session for the invigilators they will undoubtedly emphasise how important it is to keep this issue under control, as some students have been known to try to smuggle beer into the exam halls.

1 comment:

mitluana said...

:D :D :D Good old England...