The day of the first exam arrives. The gentle murmur of pupils is heard outside the exam room door. Sounds of "I'm going to fail this exam" and "I haven't done enough revision" permeate the air.
The more studious stand contemplative and silent, armed with pristine equipment and clutching revision notes. The less able or the disorganised have little equipment. Some pupils inevitably fail to wear school uniform, especially now that their normal teachers are not invigilating.
The invigilators arrive groaning under the weight of all those exam papers.
The pupils creep like snails into the theatre where their lack of knowledge is to be exposed. As they sit, orders are barked: "No mobile phones."
"Coats at the back." "Sit only where you see your exam number."
The lead invigilator takes the pupils through the front page and then the cry "You may start," is heard.
So this is it, the culmination of 11 years' compulsory education. A funereal hush descends, pens slide across paper, invigilators spread out around the room and the clock ticks inexorably on.
The more able write reams. "Bless them," say the invigilators, who are stirred out of near slumber to supply extra paper.
A pencil is dropped and picked up. Hands go up. A pen has run out. The toilet is needed. Some pupils ask for help which cannot be given. Again, the invigilators are grateful to be moving, emerging from a now-near stupor. Sniffing and coughing are the only accompaniments to the clock ticking.
Some pupils have now finished. They look around, fidget, click pen tops, lean back on chairs, and try to catch the eye of other pupils. They are urging the clock on, exhorting time to pass. Tired heads are down on benches.
"Five more minutes," booms the lead invigilator, startling everybody.
The more able write ever faster. The less able and those who have not bothered to revise have hope of liberation from that exam room prison.
Invigilators glide effortlessly to the front ready to collect papers.
"Pens down," is heard. The relief of the pupils is palpable.
Pupils are dismissed, chatting about the paper or hurrying to go home. The ritual is to be repeated tomorrow and throughout the exam season. Futures have been decided. Next year will be the same too.
Jim Goodall is a retired science teacher from Torfaen