Exam Invigilation

Now, I should preface this by saying that it’s better than actually having to write the exam, but man, invigilating exams is boring!  Invigilation, for the uninitiated, is the process whereby the instructor stands around doing absolutely nothing while watches over students writing their exams. You can’t do anything else while invigilating – no reading a book, no marking papers, no anything else that might be productive – because your job is to make sure that no one is cheating.  So you sit there, for two hours, and watch 50 people with their heads bent over their exam papers, writing furiously and trying to remember the major components of the synovial joint of the knee1.

While invigilating an exam for one of my courses today, these were some of the thoughts that were running through my head:

  • I have to remember to email so-and-so when I get into the office.  I also need to book a massage appointment. Mmm, massage.
  • That was a good Canucks game last night.
  • I wish I could be doing something productive right now.
  • [after looking at watch] What? It’s only been 15 minutes??
  • There are a lot of students wearing red sweaters. But only one wearing green.  And one wearing purple. No, wait, there’s another wearing purple. I wonder why the two people wearing purple sat near the one girl wearing green.  Wait, that girl way over there is wearing purple. Why isn’t she sitting with the other girls wearing purple? Didn’t she get the memo to sit near the girl in green?  She’s the only girl in green, she’s hard to miss.
  • It’s only an hour into this two hour exam and I’ve completely run out of thoughts.

1Today’s exam was for an anatomy class.

Comments |5|

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  • When I went to university, exam invigilators were often the instructors and they marked papers all the time. I guess it is harder to cheat on essay based exams.

    I did have one instructor postpone the start of an exam (and we didn’t get the time back) because someone was wearing a hat. It became clear that we were not going to start the exam until he removed his hat. Of course this prof was a little off his nut. It was for a course in Russian history and he claimed the Stalin purges never happened…

    Shihtzustaff’s last blog post..Tech Stuff


  • Reply

  • @Shihtzustaff – I’ve marked papers when invigilating UBC exams (as I’ve never been told I wasn’t supposed to), but at SFU Distance Ed instructors were very clear about it.

    @Raul – You are so mean! Why would you want to see your students suffer? I like seeing my students do well because it means my teaching was clear and effective!


  • I preferred invigilating in SRC gym, because there were usually volleyballs, badminton birdies, etc. lodged in high places, and I could spend part of my time figuring out ways to liberate them without causing noise or disruption. This usually involved poking them with long sticks, and sometimes also involved making pyramids of spare exam tables. Usually it required the help of other bored invigilators, to ensure that nothing made it to the floor or any other potentially loud surface.

    One year they decided that there was a possibility someone might pull a fire alarm, so some TAs got to spend 2.5 hours staring at a red box out in various hallways. No doubt that was exciting.

    The most memorable was when Classroom Services decided not to unlock the building or answer the phone (note: washrooms also locked), and the prof and most of the TAs assigned to my section couldn’t find the correct wing of the building. I managed to get into the building, figured out a way to set off the alarm (Security has master keys, but apparently not always alarm codes), convinced Security to unlock everything, put out most of the papers myself (another prof dropped them off), and almost got the exam going before the prof showed up almost 30 minutes late.

    But I’d take 2.5 hours of utter boredom over a day and a half of marking 2000 answers to the same question any day.


  • You can’t do anything else? I’ve seen profs mark papers and fiddle on their laptops at exams all the time. Maybe that’s only in-class tests or something but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it during finals, too.

    Requiring people to sit there doing nothing is stupid.


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