So, I did my exam invigilation yesterday. I get to exam room at 8am. There are lots of students outside waiting. I go in. All the exam papers have already been placed on the desks. The instructor comes in and tells me that she and the other TA will be outside checking calculators. I am supposed to stop people from entering the exam room. Great.

I basically sit on my ass for half hour. 8:30am rolls around. The instructor, Daniela, and the other TA, Dana are both from my research lab. Daniela lets the students in. They file in, take their places, and generally look nervous.

Final instructions are given. They are told to start the exam. Dana grabs the class list and starts going around to check IDs. That leaves me with a whole lot of nothing to do. I’m tempted to read my textbook, which I’ve brought, but I’m being paid to be observe the students, not study. So, I start patrolling the two aisles of the lecture hall.

I see nothing out of the ordinary. I can’t answer any questions because it’s been a while since I’ve taken the course, and I haven’t seen the exam, so I don’t know what Daniela has written for the questions. All I can do is point out people to Daniela when they raise their hands. My entire purpose there is to prevent people from cheating.

I go up to the top of the hall and find an empty seat. Damn, this is really, really boring. As Dana goes around to check IDs, she’s also checking that everyone has an authorized cheat sheet. They were instructed to have only a single hand-written cheat sheet. That’s a standard rule which some instructors have. It’s not hard to follow… so I thought. Dana starts finding people who can’t follow instructions. One guy has an entire typed out cheat sheet. Dana confiscates it and takes it away. He looks incredulous. He comes down to talk to Daniela. I can’t hear what he’s saying but he looks to be pleading his case. She’s firm. He walks away, accepting his fate. He no longer has a list of equations that he needs. I hope he has a good memory.

Dana finds two more people like that. How hard is it to write out an equation as opposed to photocopying it or typing it out? Dumb.

As they explore more of the exam, the questions from the students increase in number. I move back to the front of the hall and I’m pointing left and right to people with questions.

I also notice the things people bring into exams. One guy has brought a sheet of plywood three or four feet in length to the exam. He’s got it laid out across three desks to form a “super-desk”. It’s actually quite inventive since these lecture halls have really tiny desks and you usually have several papers to refer to. Another guy has a small Buddha sculpture on his desk. I didn’t see him rub it for good luck, but I assumed he did. Water is a popular item to bring. Some people have coffee, which I wouldn’t bring to an exam. A few people have food too.

About an hour into the exam, the requests for a bathroom run begin. Back in my undergrad days, no one went to the bathroom. You just made sure you were bone dry before and you didn’t leave. Now, people are asking like crazy. We can only let one person at a time leave, so a queue starts up. Dana keeps the line-up in her head.

Up and down the aisles I walk looking for funny business. I see none. I go back to the front and I take a look at the students. I’m about ten years older than most of them. I marvel at how long ten years is, and wonder how fast time has flown by.

There are certainly more women in mechanical now compared to my time. I had one female in my mechanical class, and I went to high school with her. This class was nearly 30% female. That’s incredible. I’m guessing engineering is now a much more attractive option to females now. This is good.

At the 1.5 hour mark or so, Daniela gives me some money to go get some food for all of us. I return with some coffee, tea, and some bagels. Despite my little field trip, I’m still bored.

At the 2.5 hour mark, the exam ends. Daniela tells everyone to stop writing. She doesn’t want anyone to leave until she has collected all the papers. I thought she was going to let me and Dana go around, collect the exams quickly, count them, and then let the students leave. Nope. I was wrong. And here is where it went south.

Instead, she came around to each student, re-confirmed their ID, ticked something off on a sheet and then moved onto the next person. No one could leave until all the exams were in and accounted for. She was spending 15 seconds on average per student and there were over 120 students there. It would take over half an hour just to collect the exams. I quickly realized this and so did many other people. The comments started to fly.

“This is going to take forever.”

“I have another exam at 1pm. I have to go.”

“I need to pee, really, really badly.”

“I need to study.”

“Can I go.”

I sensed a riot in the making, so I let the students go to the bathroom, but told them to come back. Some people started talking, eating, and studying. The rest were getting impatient. A lot of them complained to me. I told them I didn’t make the rules, I just enforced them. I felt sorry for them, I’d never seen anything like this.

Half an hour went by, and Daniela had gotten to the last 20 people or so. Then, by some unheard or unseen signal, everyone just got up and left. They had had enough and I didn’t blame them. The problem was, we hadn’t counted the exams yet. Right.

All the exams came in and I was told I could leave. Total time spent? Four hours. Way too long. I’ve had my fill of invigilation for a while.

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