• Charli


It’s prelim time at school: pre-exam planning has been completed, pupils are poised and anxious, not sure if they have really covered enough with sufficient swotting and last minute cramming.

It’s too late now, no amount of bluster can cover up the inner reality of enough, not enough and diddly-squat study.

The tables have been set out as they have for probably hundreds of years – in rows, facing the front, a number on each table. Students leave bags and coats at the back of the hall and are reminded to take only essentials to their table and ensure ALL PHONES ARE SWITCHED OFF AND REMAIN IN BAGS. Clear, careful instructions and warnings about cheating are delivered in a friendly but firm way.

You can turn over your papers and begin.

Great – the kids have got plenty to keep themselves occupied for the next hour and a half, even through their sweat and tears their brains are engaged, their hands busy as they wrack their brains, ponder, consider and re-consider, cross out, add a bit; re-read the question, swear under bated breaths and start again.

Me? I have to stand and wait and watch. And wait. And watch. There’s no other way around it, invigilation is dull. Colleagues from the maths department can drum up all sorts of probabilities relating to when a pupil might ask for paper, a pencil, a question. They can work out percentages of pupils with blond, brown, red hair; those in full school uniform, hair tied up, beards etc.

Me – I remember being one of the students and the excruciating pain of worry, fear and panic. I remember not wanting to be wrong, to be marked down for anything. I remember feeing quite pleased with the end product and then disappointed that the marks didn’t reflect that. I remember never wanting to talk about the answers I had written, once the exam was over, worried that everybody would be right and I would be wrong.

Sometimes I just couldn’t understand what the question was really getting at – what was the criteria? And how come everyone else seemed to understand and I didn’t. To be honest I still struggle with that, but over the years have taught myself enough coping strategies to alleviate that concern. I read the question or task over and over, pick it apart, look at it from different angles and then try to keep things as simple as possible, ticking off each layer of the problem as I tackle it, trying so hard not to get distracted by my internal thought processes. Part of the problem is that I get bored with the detail that is sometimes required, that a capital letter is in the correct place when referencing and citing from texts; that I have absolutely stuck within my allotted wordage, and that I have finished on time.

So today, I had to stifle a wry smile as I thought of how particularly difficult it must be for young people these day to ‘fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run’ – Rudyard Kipling  when they finish their papers early but cannot leave the hall, used as they are to having gadgets at their fingertips that deliver instant gratification.

When I eventually retire I will not be signing up to be an SQA invigilator!

Invigilation – a poem

Books strewn asunder, pens and pencils chewed,

laptops slammed shut bad wifi verbally abused.

In spite of 6months warning the time is up at last,

three more hours of writing – a failure or a pass.

Plans made for the future look in jeopardy

an hour left to work it out, a real big need to pee.

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