Monday, November 21, 2016

Adventures In Proctoring (With A bonus Track About Politics)

I’m a lecturer at a very big government university here in South East Asia. Five times every year I do a stint of proctoring tests. I just finished up my scheduled ten days after the first semester. It’s always interesting, and this time was no exception.

We hand out and collect the tests, keep an eye out for cheating, and check IDs while the students sign in. Did I say interesting? Sometimes it’s downright fascinating.

Like the fellow who filled in the entire answer sheet of a multiple choice test with the answer sheet turned upside down. He was reading the test questions right side up, so it wasn’t some strange kind of dyslexia. He engaged with the test, too, he worked through it at about the usual pace, and the resulting sheet did not betray the patterns that indicate guessing. But for the whole two hours, all 120 questions, he had the answer sheet turned 180 degrees around and was filling in all of the little circles that way. North was facing south. My only guess as to why he would do that was that it was a personal superstition. Maybe he tried it that way once and got an “A.”

There was another young woman who also had a personalized way of filling in the answer sheet. She went through the entire test putting only a small dot in the middle of the chosen circle. She was very precise about the location and the tone of the dot. After she had finished all 120 questions, she went through the test again, this time darkening only the outer ring of the circles with dots in them. I had supposed that she was going to read the questions over again before darkening the entire circle, but that wasn’t the case. Finally, she went through the entire test for a third time, filling in the remainder of all of the chosen circles. On the last go round she leaned into her pencil so hard that the resulting answer sheet could have been read as braille. This could be another superstition, but it could also be a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’m no doctor.

As I say, we proctors collect the tests for our individual row. One morning the test for my row ended at 12:00 noon, and at noon there was only one young woman still working on her test. The head proctor called time, so I approached her with my hand out. She formed a protective circle around her test and continued writing furiously. I smiled and said, in the local language, time’s over, hand me the test. She ignored me. Then I gave her a short countdown and tried to take the paper. I mean, the boss proctors are already wondering why the foreigner is letting her keep writing. She clutched the paper desperately to her breast and continued writing. That was it for me; I wasn’t going to start a fight with the girl. I went up front and told the ladies near my station what was going on and asked one of them to please go and get the test. One of the native speaking men overheard me, laughed a little, walked over to the girl and got the test. Maybe she had completed her thought and was ready to hand it in.

There was a crazy lady in my area one day. Not my row, thank God. She was dressed in all white and she was carrying a large white tote bag. In the other hand she carried one of those clear plastic document envelopes. The document case was thick with papers of some kind, and she would wave it meaningfully in the face of anyone who got too close. She was very thin, at least fifty-five-years-old, a bit unkempt, and she was mumbling the entire time. She mumbled throughout the test period and was still mumbling when she walked out the door after a couple of hours. She drew attention from the head proctors immediately and they paid her a visit at her desk. She must have had the required documents, and her name must have been on the list for that row, and she must have had appropriate ID, because they let her stay. The mumbling got to some of her neighbors though, so before long the head proctors were back trying to get her to shut up. She started gesturing with the document pack again. The proctors moved the complaining students to other seats, and the rest of us just had to listen to her.

I looked over the crazy woman’s shoulder a couple of times to see what her test booklet looked like. Hers was a longhand test, essay questions. She wrote in a large, circular script and it appeared that she barely laid the pen on the paper. It was large enough that two adjacent lines would overlap. I could not guarantee that they were real words and sentences. It looked more like drawings of clouds. She would cover two or three lines in this manner and then skip a few lines and start again. She filled two test booklets.

And so, another session of proctoring is accomplished and done with. Lessons have been learned; fun has been had; my feet, which had become rather sore, have already settled down. After nine years, this job remains well up the range on the interesting scale, and it continues to climb on a regular basis into the zone of fascination.

Gratuitous Political Addendum:

I am grateful to have these pleasant things to distract me from certain events taking place nine to twelve time zones away in my own miserable country. Things there have unfortunately gone from bad to worse, with everyone participating in the tragedy, and no one seeming to particularly give a shit that it’s all going to hell. Well, what can one man do but stand and watch? Write a bit on a blog? Talk a bit? One man? It’s a joke.

It’s a shame, too. The United States of America was a wonderful idea when it was proposed, and after 160 years and many fits and starts it looked for a while there like we would make it. The odds of success have fallen rather dramatically in the last fifty years. I was glad to see it at its apogee, and I’ll probably be dead before the perigee comes. Good luck to all of you who find yourselves living out your lives in the United States of Orwellian Horror. Blame it on that prick Reagan, if you ask me. He was the last one with a chance to stop it from happening. He chose, instead, to accelerate the downfall. More fool us! Ashes, ashes, you know. As the Romans said, morituri te salutant! (“We who are about to die, salute you!”) 

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