Spare a Thought for the Invigilator


There’s plenty of sympathy out there at the moment for all those poor students sitting their exams around the world. Just within the confines of the Gluestick Family we’ve got Boo taking her Year 2 SATs. Tests that aren’t obligatory…except Ofsted definitely want to see the results. I’m not sure how that works. And then there’s Indy sitting her end of year exams. She only seems to have been at uni for about 5 minutes, so heaven only knows how that came to be. I’m sure she’ll be fine though. She’s a clever girl.

But amongst all the stressing students and parents and teachers (who will have tried their hardest to get their kids to jump through the carious exam hoops and who have to face the same results-day fear as their pupils on an annual basis) there’s another group for whom sympathy should be extended: the Invigilators.

Which always makes me think of them as something akin to the Avengers. But I can confirm that nothing could be further from the truth. Although they do have the super-power of resistance to boredom. It’s not quite up there with the ability to fly or stretchy limbs, is it?

I was an invigilator for 7 months whilst pregnant with Boo. I got to stand at the front of a hall of quaking students and tell them when to turn over their papers. I got to hand out pens and paper. I got to look over their shoulders and cadge a peek at their answers.

What I never got to do, sadly, was re-enact the Armstrong & Miller exam invigilator sketch

I did learn a lot though.

• Kids en masse are inherently noisy.
The trickiest part for the invigilator is definitely getting that ominous silence at the start. Or quelling the passions of passing mobs. Unless the ‘Quiet – Exams in Progress’ signs are screwed up and stuffed into the mouths of passing groups of kids, silence really isn’t going to happen. If you’re not in the hall, exams are NOT as important as what Shauna did with Scott at Lauren’s party last Saturday.

• A teenager and their mobile phone are not easily parted.

Mobile phones were prohibited in the exam room. Yet every session we would have a tub full of electronics that would then be carted off to the school office.

It would have been fun to have a nosy through students’ texts messages, but that may have been frowned upon as distracting. Or to pinch one – their word over ours – as they ALWAYS had better phones than my own. It probably would have encouraged them to leave their phones outside the exam hall though.

• Teenagers and essential exam materials are very easily parted however.
How do you turn up to an exam that requires nothing more than yourself and a pen without a pen? I lost count of the pens we handed out that summer. And pencils, calculators, rulers, erasers…I swear the pupils were in cahoots with Stationery Box, allowing them to re-stock for free.

• I developed Jedi-like mind control over the boredom.

Ah, poor students, expected to sit quiet and focused for an hour/hour and a half. Often we would have consecutive exams to invigilate over the course of an afternoon. Possibly with extra time for the students with special needs. And following a morning exam. If there’d been any pencils left I possibly would have stuck them through my eye socket and into my brain and twiddled it round a bit as a self-styled lobotomy.

Instead we came up with different distraction techniques. Yes, we played ‘label the pupil’: best-looking, ugliest, possibly most intelligent, most likely to appear first in the court register…Although we were more subtle than standing next to them. Surely such scenarios are exactly what grid coordinates were designed for.

I couldn’t convince anyone to join me in more Armstrong & Miller shenanigans though. Shame.

When invigilating solo my preferred method of boredom relief was to answer the papers myself. Easiest had to be GCSE Childcare – at 7 months pregnant all my pre-baby reading had paid off. I finished that sucker off in about 15 minutes. Had premature labour occurred I’m not sure I’d have had confidence in the candidates to put their written answers into practice though.

I do wonder what I would have scored had I actually submitted the papers. I reckon I aced Spanish and Maths, but my Latin translation was definitely dodgy.

• Never underestimate the importance of wearing the right shoes.

Comfort was a must. Odour-elimination also essential (the smell of 150 pairs of teenage feet and armpits already enough to endure on a hot, sweaty day in a gym hall – no need to add to the fug). Also nothing clicky…or squeaky. I went through at least five pairs of shoes, not aided by my increasing pregnant-lady cankles, before finding the right pair. Apologies to all students I distracted during before I found the ideal pair of flats.

• Boys are less deferential to exams than girls.


There was the boy who failed to show up on time for his A level Biology exam, the teacher – who used to scare the bejesus out of me when I was a pupil – going ballistic at him on the phone. Still he didn’t rush to get in, changing his excuse until we fully expected his bus to have been kidnapped by aliens.

Or the boys who had to be repeatedly cautioned in a Year 9 SATs test for turning around and talking.

Or the boy who tried to get an early pass out of his GCSE Science exam because he had an apprenticeship to get to. Not a chance, Sonny. (I did let him out without making him sit through the extra 25% time he was allowed for having extra needs. I think I would have had a revolt on my hands had I made him stay past the school bell.)

Or the boy who claimed to be someone else entirely.

Me: What’s your name?

Boy: Kurt Barratt.

Me: No you’re not. I know Kurt Barratt and he is definitey NOT you.

Ha! Busted!

The only trouble I had with a girl was with someone more obsessed with doing her hair than filling out her answer paper. After I confiscated her comb and mirror she got her prom photos out and looked at them until she was free to go. I hope Science didn’t turn out to be a specific requirement for her future as, even in the days of lowered standards, I doubt merely writing your name on a paper gets you a pass.

• Cushiest job is invigilating individual students with additional needs.

I got this a lot, thanks to my ever-expanding bump and one-to-one invigilating was the best. Tucked up in a spare office with the girl who had panic attacks at the mere thought of sitting in a big hall or the blind A-grade Science student were my favourites. More relaxed all round and they offered a chance to sit in a (relatively) comfortable chair, drink coffee and read a book. Plus extra pay as the students would be given extra time. Result!

It’s definitely not the hardest job in the world. All in all most kids are on their best behaviour come exam time and are happy to follow the rules. Meltdowns and disasters are pre-empted and pretty much avoided. But it’s also incredibly boring. Far more boring than answering the questions, although, obviously a lot less hangs on the time in the exam hall for them than for the students.

If only it was as much fun as this though.



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