The Secret Invigilator
Ever wondered what the adults in the exam room are thinking? An anonymous invigilator reveals all…
A lot of people ask me whether I’m bored of invigilating, having done it for eight years straight. They tell me how tedious it must be, how indescribably monotonous, having to stand at the back of an exam hall for three hour periods with almost no role other than to observe; to stare relentlessly at a bland sample of anonymous students as they scramble their way towards a particular answer, a particular mark, a particular grade or number they’ve convinced themselves will bring them some contrived form of temporary joy. Surely you’ve had enough.
No. I haven’t. It doesn’t matter what my wife says, what my therapist says, or what my ex-therapist said. I’m not deeply unsatisfied with my existence and also suffering from a moderate to severe caffeine addiction. I love my job and almost everything about it.
In ‘06 I did a gig at the Guildhall. It was a science exam. Or a maths one. One with a high proportion of Asians anyway. Twenty minutes in and this girl stuck her hand up. Right up. Obviously I’d been on the course so knew this meant she was trying to get our attention. I glanced at my co-invigilator, she gave me the nod, and three minutes later I was by the girl’s side, ready to take the required action. She was nervous. Stressed. In fact, I could feel her hand shaking as I cradled it in my own- an act my supervisor and I have concluded did NOT justify a formal complaint.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
Her pen had run out. And, while her reaction to my ‘well go out and get it then’ line wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, dashing to the stationery box to find her a replacement was nothing but a thrill. I was alive, in the moment, fighting for a student’s success, and at one point even noticed my own arms shaking – presumably from sheer excitement, or possibly from the double espresso I’d just finished.
But it’s not just this kind of unforgettable day that makes my job worthwhile. There are so many fun aspects to invigilating that most people simply aren’t aware of. It’s the little things, like stopping the exam slightly too early or over-emphasising everything mobile phone-related, playing a game of ‘hover near the ugly one’, ‘fart at the front’ or ‘drink all the coffee’, pretending to understand what actually constitutes malpractice – the list goes on. And then ends.
So how did I get here? How did I end up in a job like this? Surprisingly, I didn’t always want to be an invigilator. No. When I was younger – much younger – I wanted to be a pilot. But not a commercial pilot. Not the kind of fool who’s forced to shepherd a couple of hundred whooping morons from Glasgow to Marbella four times a day, trapped inside what is essentially a phallic bin. No, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. The kind of man who rules the skies, striking fear into the hearts of men, women, children, ethnics, the disabled – all demographics. We’re all equal.
Imagine the speed. Imagine the adrenaline. Imagine the pussy.
But, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Why? Well if I were to say the phrases ‘personality clash’, ‘biased selection process’, and ‘series of failed preliminary medicals’ I’m sure you’d be able to work things out. I was devastated, of course, but wasn’t going to give up. I still yearned for a role that would give me a sense of power; that same opportunity to stare down at hundreds from above. It didn’t take long.
Do I feel like I’ve settled for second best with invigilating? Yes. But then second best is still pretty good. Andy Murray’s the world number two and my wife fancies the arse off him. That said, he has got the personality of Norton AntiVirus, which is probably why she’s actually married to me.
I wouldn’t claim to know what the future holds for me, Andy, or invigilating as a whole, but personally I think we’re going to see a move towards a more comprehensive invigilating process. Perhaps we’ll see a system of integration where invigilators essentially BECOME the exam. I hope so. It’s not that I’m bored with the current system though. Honestly. It’s only been eight years. That’s nothing.