This time of year I am at my busiest. It’s exam time. In addition to my regular part-time work I do a lot of invigilation, managing an exam room with either A-level students or Year 11 sitting their GCSE exams. Sometimes both groups are represented in the hall, even doing up to six or seven different exams, and with different finishing times.
One task of mine is quite obviously to make sure nobody is trying to cheat, but most of the time it is a matter of assisting them in case they run out of paper, pens run dry, noses start to bleed (I have had that!), somebody starts sneezing or coughing desperately, or like just now, a candidate (18 years old!) had forgotten to bring an eraser, so I very quickly lent him one with a nice smile from me and an embarrassed smile from him.
This afternoon there is only a small group, well spread out to give them plenty of space around each individual. The ten candidates in front of me are doing A-level “Advanced Decision Mathematics”, which doesn’t look like maths to me, being more of a linguist. There are hardly any numbers in the questions!
It is absolutely quiet in the hall but for the occasional turning of pages and the constant quiet humming of the big extractor fans, which could easily put me to sleep should I close my eyes.
However I have to be very vigilant, it is after all called invigilation. If the fans were to be turned off I am sure I would be able to hear the candidates' brains producing a similar low-level humming, coming from their collective pulsating brain activity, which might even produce more electricity than one of those much-debated wind turbines.
I hope it doesn’t sound too sentimental, but I cannot help thinking of the importance of these 90 minutes. The number of marks they achieve in their exam might determine whether they get that coveted place at university they have worked so hard for. Presumably I am the only person in this exam hall who is thinking right now about how that could even shape their whole future. All ten candidates seem to be very much on task. Only fifteen minutes left now. I sincerely hope they all have done well.