Empathy, tact, eyes in the back of the head and non-squeaky shoes are the key to this essential role
“The key to invigilating is actually to do it – not just to see oneself as sitting in a large room reading or, as many people do, marking other exam papers,” says Susan Bassnett, pro vice-chancellor and professor in Warwick University’s Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies.
Common sense is not quite enough either. You need to know what you are doing. Carol Winning, examinations manager at Leeds University points out that this means being aware of the institution’s exam regulations before the exam, and identifying the location of the toilets, evacuation and exit routes, the nearest first-aider, the porter’s office, and the internal phone.
Dawn Stephens, central examinations manager at the University of the West of England, says invigilators must try to create a calm and welcoming environment. “Our aim is to make students feel relaxed and able to ask any questions that may be necessary,” she says. She advises invigilators to arrive at least an hour before the start of an exam to make sure that all paperwork is in place and the necessary stationery is available.
Invigilators should also have the telephone numbers of all those involved in setting exams so they can ring them with any queries.
Winning recommends you ensure that the environment is satisfactory in terms of temperature, lighting and noise and that there is a clock displaying the right time and visible to all candidates.
Check the rubric of the exam paper carefully for any exam-specific instructions, such as a need for graph paper, permission to use textbooks or instructions not to use certain items. Arrange with other invigilators how duties will be divided, and remind candidates as they enter the room of the relevant regulations, while being sensitive to the fact that stress may affect students’ behaviour.
She advises smart-casual dress, without noisy footwear, and suggests resisting conversations with other invigilators unless absolutely necessary.
Jude Carroll, staff and educational development consultant at the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development and an expert in plagiarism, says more experienced invigilators spot more things than those who are new, which shows that there are tricks of the trade to be learnt. “There is a whole bunch of things people need to look out for, and it changes all the time,” she says.
One important task is to verify the identity of candidates taking the exam. If students are required to put their ID on the desk, check that the person writing the exam is the same one as on the card.
You must also keep constant watch on what is happening. If you see something unusual, walk around the room to check, making sure you do not disturb students.
Carroll says it is usual practice to note the name of the student who concerns you and address the issue once the exam has finished. Winning says you must not intimidate a candidate you suspect of cheating by standing over him or her, or interrupting, unless you have to. Instead, report back on any suspicious behaviour later.
Stephens says that at her institution, invigilators are advised to get the opinion of a second supervisor if they suspect a student of cheating.
But it isn't all about policing. Some international students may have trouble with the vocabulary used in a question, so it is important to establish beforehand whether or not you can tell them what a word means.
Anni Wood, vice-president, education, at Bath University Students’ Union, says: “Being relaxed and giving information in a friendly way is something students appreciate. Some invigilators are formal almost to the point of being militant.”
She says that while students do not object to invigilators wandering around the room, they don't like them standing over their shoulders. And they want them to act swiftly if there is noise outside the examination room, and to minimise the impact of one group leaving the room while others are still working.