April 14th, 2004

krazy koati

If the teacher pops a test I know I'm a mess

An ominous warning sent by ... I'm not sure who. All e-mails from upper administrative types get forwarded around through so many secretaries it's hard to work up the interest to detangle all the forwardings so I'm left with a stern warning from anonymous people. The warning is that for this final exam season somebody ominously high up will take attendance ... of the people giving and watching over the exams. Apparently too many instructors are not getting to the staging centers a half-hour before the scheduled start of exams.

The watching over of exams is called ``invigilating'', an unfamiliar word which confused and frustrated my first semester. People kept asking me about my invigilating responsibilities, and the best I could figure is it meant I had to watch something; what, though, was kept a mystery until I cornered a T.A. and asked what I was supposed to do and for what. The word is meant to just mean ``proctoring'' the exams.

Invigilating's quite systematic, almost the opposite of the way I've ever done anything. Exam questions have to be reviewed by another instructor and turned in before the end of classes. A half-hour before the exam (don't be early, don't be late) the instructor receives -- in a sealed brown envelope -- just enough copies of the final exam for the registered students and invigilators. We also get exactly three empty booklets per student. We also get a bag of strings, all the same length. This is so that students using several books can tie them together.

Student ID checks are required. Last year they added temperature checks, to guard against SARS. Seats are assigned, and the seating chart is posted outside and inside. There are forms to fill out for any student who wants a bathroom break, or who needs to leave for any reason, and there's a form to report any extraordinary circumstances. There's also a form to report if there are no extraordinary circumstances. Telephones are installed in each venue for the duration of the test so that if any crises arise they can be duly reported. Students may not leave earlier than 30 minutes before the scheduled end of the exam. I don't think they ran things this tight when I took the GREs.

An exam I peeked in on -- I didn't dare enter -- was in the seminar room in the department. Number of invigilators: two. Number of students: One. Everyone involved looked self-conscious. Students get to keep the exam blanks; the booklets are taken back, the forms are turned in, and the graded exams are taken by ... I don't know who, but they take them. I get to keep the bag of eight-centimeter strings, and use them for the obvious purposes.

And in local news a substation short circuit blacked out parts of Singapore around midnight. 2,700 people called the power company hotline, which had two people answering. The company may be fined up to a million dollars for the disruption. The blackout lasted only one hour.

Trivia: The first successful full-scale test of the inflatable gliding wing landing system for Project Gemini was made 30 April 1964, the day after the system was removed from the Project Gemini goals. Source: On The Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood. SP-4203.

Currently Reading: One Two Three ... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science, George Gamow.