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Talk and chalk

Up for a good time? Then steer clear of invigilation, advises Phil Revell

You'll be amazed to hear that invigilation derives from the Latin invigilare, meaning to keep watch. Perhaps you already know this: because anything - reading dictionaries, counting ceiling tiles, even an evening with Vanessa Feltz - has to be more appealing than invigilation.

It's torture. The only way to pass the time is to wander the rows and read the rubbish that is finding its way on to the page. But you're not allowed to do that - something in the regs about no hysterical laughter in the exam hall. Instead, the dedicated invigilator stands at the front and ministers to the throng. A dropped pencil, request for a continuation sheet, enquiry about the diagram on page 4 - all these result in a stampede of staff desperate for something to do.

Assistance with the paper is forbidden. When Suzie the superstar points at the map of East Anglia and whispers "This is France, isn't it?", the invigilator should say something anodyne such as: "Read the paper carefully."

Exam halls are usually chilly, as the heating has been switched off since March. Old hands will bring a cardie and a flask.

Tiny noises assume massive importance. Those new shoes have an irritating squeak that you hadn't noticed before. Many students will have hay fever, but this is good as it gives you the chance to go around handing out tissues.

Teachers who have taught the subject will pay a quick visit to glance at the paper and appraise the throng, even though no one will make eye contact. If it's your class, you shouldn't be left in sole charge. Therein lies temptation.

Exams are scheduled for some odd times and places. I supervised an A-level exam in the attic of the school annexe. One boy sat his exam at the local hospital, plastered up to the hip.

Cheating is virtually unknown. The complex scams reported in the press - involving lookalikes or secret radios - are rare , and the most exciting event might be a nosebleed or a visit from the exam board.

Zen Buddhists would love invigilation, with its opportunities for quiet, uncluttered thinking. Perhaps that's the answer. Now where are those saffron robes?

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