Sunday, August 22, 2010

Time-warp tests

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of having to invigilate a test or exam in their lifetime can attest to this simple truth; it’s not fun. Tests seem to alter the space-time continuum, drawing time out, extending it beyond what is normally possible. It’s much like deadlines, which compress time into smaller and smaller bits, but it works in the opposite way.

Anyone who has ever invigilated a test will also tell you that as an invigilator you need something to occupy your mind while doing this job. If you don’t, the time-warping effect of the test is exacerbated tenfold. If you are smart, you take a book to read, or some marking to do from the previous time that you invigilated. But if you are like me, you only realise you are supposed to be invigilating about two minutes before the test starts and thus fail in the forward-planning department and end up stuck, pacing the rows of students with nothing to occupy your time.

On Friday, I had to invigilate such a test. Unfortunately, true to form, I completely forgot about it and thus failed to take reading material with me. I had walked briskly across campus, strolling nonchalantly past the students who were waiting outside the test venue (as their lecturer, you must maintain your coolness at all times). Once inside the large building, I realised that the test hadn’t even been set out, never mind ready for the students to write. I also discovered that the class, being in excess of 400 students, would be writing in two consecutive sessions.

Once the test was set out, the first batch of students came in to write. Time took on the consistency of syrup and my mind began to strain at the growing emptiness inside. When invigilating, I find that I tend to become pathologically eagre to do mundane tasks; things like collecting unused transcripts, counting the number of absentees, estimating the ages of students, counting how many students pick their noses thinking nobody is watching all become of the utmost importance. Occasionally a student will put up their hand for an extra sheet or to request an escort to the bathroom and your mind rejoices at the opportunity to do something.

After the first batch of students wrote and had been released, the second lot filed into their places and began to worry for my mental health. I still had another hour of waiting before my invigilating duties would come to an end. As the second lot started writing, time, having given a brief respite and returning to normal speed, resumed it’s passage at the speed of snot. I too resumed my seemingly critical tasks. It was during one such task, drifting down one of the aisles between desks, that I noticed something odd.

The test venue is a large hall, built to resemble an aircraft hanger. Whether this was intentional or merely my own perception, I cannot say. But one wall of the building is made mostly of one-way glass. Pacing inside the hall, I looked through the one-way glass to see a pair of girls outside, apparently in the throws of some sort of synchronised seizure or demonic possession. As I got closer to the window, I realised that the pair were actually practicing their synchronised dance moves, using the reflection off the glass to aid them.

While this in itself was amusing, what made it so much worse was the fact that the pair were, I assume, blissfully ignorant to the fact that there were over 200 students sitting inside the room, able to see them. At one stage one of the writing students stopped her test and watched over her shoulder for a good 5 min as the duo gyrated and stamped around outside. I too watched them as they flailed around, occasionally bursting into fits of laughter when one appeared to fail at twitching at the right time.

The responsibility of watching the students drew my mind back to the writing masses. Suddenly, a shriek was herd and I turned back to see what had happened. As I turned, it became clear that the pair outside were the noise. As I watched, the pair tore around the parking lot outside apparently being pursued by something small and white. I looked closer and realised that they were being chased around by a Maltese poodle and that the dog was determined to take them down, no matter the cost. One friend broke away, successfully evading the pooch while the second continued her rampage of shrieking. Eventually, she stopped, apparently exhausted from all the running and screaming, and the dog stopped to. The pair caught their breath and then resumed their chase.

Unfortunately, the test time was nearly up and I had to tear myself away from this very amusing episode. However, I think this has to have been one of the most exciting test invigilations I’ve ever done! It was awesome!