Part of the job of many academics is to get involved in exam invigilation during the summer term. For a few lucky ones, perhaps this job is done by other staff members, but in my department we have to do our fair share. While many people see it as a boring couple of hours doing nothing, I think that it is a really important part of the job.
For better or worse exams are an intrinsic part of our education system. They might seem an odd way of assessing how much knowledge our students have acquired over the course of the year, but since the days of mass education ruled out giving every student a viva voce (an oral examination) students have had to face the thought of sitting in a room full of hundreds of desks for several hours at a time regurgitating what they have been taught.
Obviously the job of the invigilator is nowhere near as stressful as the task of those sitting the exam, but it’s still a big responsibility to ensure an exam room runs smoothly. And to hear many people talk, the main job of an invigilator these days is to prevent cheating. I don’t take such a cynical view of my students, but it’s certainly something we have to be aware of, especially in this day and age when a pocket PC or mobile phone can be easily stashed about somebody’s person.
But the other side of the coin is having to look after the students and make sure that the exam is as stress-free as possible. Some people get very worried in exam rooms, perhaps even having a panic attack, so it’s the invigilator’s job to help out in these circumstances too. It’s part of the job that you never hear about in job adverts or interviews, so it can easily be forgotten. But for those of us who take the pastoral care of our students very seriously exam invigilating is a vital but often hidden part of an academic’s work.