Exam Invigilation – my experience

This week I finished two months working part-time at a local school as an Exams Invigilator.  I enjoyed it, more than I’d expected if I’m honest.  I mean let’s face it, anyone who knows me could be forgiven for thinking it hilarious that I was being paid to be quiet for hours at a time!

This being my first taste of invigilation, I thought it’d be fun write a little about the experience – I know that many of my readers are people who might be interested in trying it sometime.  So here’s my upsides and downsides:

The Upsides:

  • Great back-to-work job:  If you’ve been out of work, working from home or not worked in a team for some time and have other commitments, this is a fantastic way to ease back into the world of work.  The workload is light, fairly predictable and as long as you’ve got an eye for detail and can remain calm when things occasionally go belly-up, it’s pretty easy.
  • Rarely dull: despite expectations, there is usually more to do than you might expect, especially if you are invigilating a sports hall full of students and several exams are going on at the same time.  Exams are shorter than back in the day when I did them 30 years ago (ouch!), and there are a whole heap of ‘access arrangements’ that keep you on your toes: extra time, rest breaks, modified papers (some have them printed onto green paper), word processed exams, clashes that require guarding etc).  It might be quiet but its rarely that dull.
  • Single-focussed: the thing I like most about invigilating has to be the excuse it gives me to focus on the here and now.  Phones are switched off, any possible distractions are filtered out, and silence the order of the day.  There is, of course, no prohibition on what your thoughts do in that time, but I find the atmosphere and task at hand forces me to just be, to push all other plans and needs to one side.  Another form of mindfulness I guess; all things I need more of in my life.
  • Teamwork: if you choose a school that is well run and who hire good staff, you quickly have to learn to work as a team for the exam to run smoothly.  The school I worked at is a private/independent one and so it had the added advantage of being very well resourced and led by a great Exams Officer, making the whole running of the exams very smooth. I have no experience elsewhere so can’t compare with the state sector, although she did come from working in a state school so was ‘trained’ there so to speak.

The Downsides:

  • Poorly paid: at only £10 p/hr its not the most lucrative job, but it is an awful lot easier than cleaning a house or supervising a class of teenagers….(more of that in a mo).
  • Unpredictable number of hours: being zero hours contract, you don’t know how many hours you’ll be asked to work until a couple of weeks before the exams start.  I found this a little frustrating as I was expecting many more hours that 1-3 slots per week.  Now I know that at the school I was working at, their policy is to only ask experienced staff to invigilate smaller groups or single students.

I was also lucky in that our lead invigilator was good fun – once the exam was over of course.  A tall, thin Bulgarian lady with big frizzy hair, she would sometimes arrive in a raincoat and sunglasses and I’d think (note think!) Russian Spy.  Then she would only go and say to us ‘So I look like a Russian spy, right?’ with a mischievous look in her eye. She then later went on to tell me a funny story about how her husband was headhunted to work for a finance company here in London whose initials were K.G.B.  I kid you not!  “And you know what?” she added, “I know how to dismantle a Kalashnikov”!!!  I died with laughter.  This was after a rather dull Latin exam, I hasten to add….

I have been asked to go back for next year’s exam. I would have been tempted but that’s looking unlikely as I’ve just accepted a job offer!  That is for my next blog post…..

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