It was my second time invigilating an international exam in Tokyo. I was called in mainly because they needed someone to do the announcements in English. A long day, 7am to 6pm.
What are your impressions of an exam invigilator? They walk around, often look sleepy, sometimes stare at you as if you are not already nervous enough, ask annoying questions, look at you like a suspect and always try to double, triple check if you are who you say you are, and most of the time, they seem to just sit there and do nothing! To many people, invigilators are pretty annoying and perhaps somewhat unnecessary.
Far from it! For an exam to go well, many things have to go right. A lot of planning is involved, especially when an exam happens on the same day around the world. A lot of organisation and precautions are required to make sure things happen accordingly. But as with most events, more often than not, many things do go wrong.
Invigilators are part of that team that make sure things can be resolved on the day even when there are hiccups here and there.
Without them, all your effort spent on cramming and studying could be compromised, invalidated or violated by unexpected incidents or people who do not play a fair game. Invigilators are in fact the enforcer of fairness on the day of the exam! Wow!
The fun and sweats of event management have eluded me for a while since I have been working as a teacher. But I guess daily classroom management has kept my eyes sharp on all kinds of fishy and volatile situations, except that the stake is much higher here and we could only whisper our utterances when discussing issues.
With all the organisation and planning ahead, what is the weakest link on the big day?
For me, four things have become apparent. Proctors knowing what to do, managing the logistics of people flow, responding to specific logistic issues associated with the venue and dealing with cheating. These are the most important issues we faced given that all the staff and materials had arrived.
The proctors to my mind is the weakest of them all. Many are one-timers and have never had the experience of invigilating such a strict exam. A lot of them might have misconceptions about a proctor’s duties, thinking that all they have to do is to turn up, sit there and try to stay awake without making any noise, in another word, easy money for apparently doing nothing.
For this particular international exam, the proctors were given a proctor’s manual in English which can easily be beyond their level of comprehension. This means unless the training is done properly, the exams cannot be administered to the rules and standards of the exam body. If at all possible, the following kind of training should be the minimum:
- All proctors must read the manual in English before the training session. They must also complete a self test on paper or online in English before the training session. Any common difficulties from the test should be highlighted so these can be strengthened during the training workshop.
- All proctors must attend a training workshop in which the running order of things for each position is assigned and everybody knows who to report to.
- During the training workshop, the local organising teams could get proctors into groups and get them to brainstorm questions, situations and solutions. The questions could also be prepared beforehand including problem areas from the self test and are set to each group. This would probably work best in Japan as asking questions might not come naturally for some people. The other problem here is that here people tend to keep nodding to acknowledge hearing the information which does not necessarily equates understanding. All new rules or changes in the regulation should be pointed out.
- The training workshop could be done in the proctor’s mother tongue but they must also be able to find the solution as mentioned in the manual (which page, which section, etc). Obviously being able to respond in English would be even better. They should be given practice filling in an example of each type of the administrative papers and reports while they are responding to the questions. The session, ideally, should take place no more than two weeks before the actual exam to keep memory fresh.
- On the day of the exam during the briefing, there should be another short quiz in the proctor’s mother tongue on a few common and essential situations before everyone gets into their position.
- The supervisor should give a checklist to each lead proctor so they can make sure the necessary paper work is done properly on the day for their section.
On the logistics of people flow, it is one of the hardest as there are three important aspects. Firstly, the venue needs to be able to handle a lot of people checking in their belongings efficiently. Secondly, the candidates will want to stay outside for as long as they can before checking into the exam room. Finally, the check-in process needs to happen efficiently and swiftly otherwise the exam materials cannot be distributed and the exam might be delayed.
Obviously briefing the venue staff handling the cloakroom is the number one priority, if possible we could broadcast regularly to remind candidates they should check in for the exam as early as possible. But again all of these would be constrained by the venue. For example, it may not be possible to make broadcast outside the exam room reminding candidates to check in early as the venue might be holding a lot of other types of events.
The flow of the people, especially during exit, is also limited by the venue. Even if you open extra doors, the cloakroom staff might not be able to handle everyone trying to collect their belonging at the same time. What our venue did, to their credit, was that they just moved everyone’s stuff to another room so people could just go and collect them by themselves during the lunch break. After the lunch break, the candidates were asked to put their stuff back in that room to save time. But I guess this would only work in Japan where it is relatively safe to even leave one’s laptop, wallet and phone on a table unattended in most cafes.
Cheating is a big business in this kind of exams. Monitoring it is crucial in ensuring a fair exam. As I was watching this guy trying his hardest to peek and glance at the candidates next to and in front of him throughout the day, I started feeling sorry for him. How obvious can one be on cheating? I have never seen anyone cheating in such a blatantly obvious manner. How frustrating it must be for the person sitting next to him, providing that they are not working together? The other thing is that for proctors, even if we suspected someone might be cheating, we could not expel the candidate. All we could do is to monitor and record what we see as often as we could.
So how do you feel now, still think invigilators are a total waste of time? Have you ever been an invigilator? Do you have what it takes to fulfil your duties?
I never thought I could have so much to say on invigilating exams just by doing it twice. Perhaps a new career path has just opened up, becoming an exam specialist? Besides, it turned out that I really enjoy making the announcements, including some impromptu ones.