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A Public Health Stranger in the Land of Medical Care

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Posted by Stewart Auyash at 9:52AM   |  9 comments
Health Communication Grad Students

If you are an IC student or a college student at most any US college, consider this when you prepare to take your final exam:

You cannot enter the room until 10 minutes before the exam begins.

You will sit in assigned numbered seats.

You are in a room with 200-600 students from many different classes.

You must leave your backpacks outside of the exam room (in an unsecured open area).

You cannot leave the exam room for the first hour of the exam.

You must stay for the entire exam time (2-3 hours) or until the invigilators release you.

If you need to use the toilet during the exam, you will be escorted by an invigilator.

If you are a faculty member who is designated as the chief invigilator, you must read instructions from a prepared laminated sheet that is presented to you by the staff assistant assigned to the exam time.  As chief invigilator, you are to supervise the proctoring of the exam by other invigilators. In some final exam sessions, invigilators are not allowed to read, grade papers, or leave the room other than to escort students to the toilet (or use it themselves).  Of course, no food allowed.

Such were the rules that the students and I followed during an exam this week at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore where I teach a class of 18 graduate students in Health Communication. I dutifully followed the instructions since I only skimmed the email that listed them all.

I was fortunate that the Chief Invigilator, whom I had never met before, turned out to be a friendly young faculty member who taught engineering. He misdiagnosed my accent and guessed that my geographical home was Australia.  But once he found out I was from New York, he beamed. He told me he was going to spend 4-6 days in New York City and asked me if there was enough to do there for that much time. I suggested 4-6 weeks at least.

So for the next 3 hours, myself and 9 other invigilators (all male) watched, walked, sat, and patiently waited (except one professor did sit down in an empty exam seat and slept for about an hour) for something to happen.  It did. Students needed to use the toilet, mostly women at first. Dutifully, the male invigilators followed the women out of the freezing ice-cold exam room out into the hot humid density of Singapore air to the ladies toilet. No, we did not go inside with them.  As far as I could tell, no cheating occurred. Thankfully.

The Singaporeans love air conditioning, or “aircon” as they say. They like it very very cold. It’s so cold that often when I leave my office, classroom, or taxis, my spectacles fog up and leave me temporarily blinded. This is a consistent concern for those of us who care about the environment and is also a reason that many of us carry sweaters or shawls around whenever we expect to spend time indoors. It was freezing in this exam room.

Back to the invigilation. At first, it was boring, really boring. So boring that I had to make things up to do. I decided to count the number of students in the room and to visually assess whether I thought they were overweight or not (this is the public health connection to this post for those of you who were waiting).  Of 178 students in the room, I counted a total of 10 (at most) who I thought were overweight.  I thought that was a remarkable (though not publishable) finding.  While overweight issues are considered a pandemic by the WHO, it was not so evident in this classroom.

Finally, we approached the end of the 3 hour exam. The Chief Invigilator gave a 15 minute warning and at exactly the prescribed time, students were told to put their writing utensils away, tie their exam books together with string (provided) and turn them into the invigilator. I brought my collection to the Chief Invigilator who verified and signed off that there were indeed were 18 exams. I was then asked to take an additional thicker piece like shoestring and tie all 18 exams together.  It was over and we took a class picture.

All these rules are intended to provide a fair playing field for the students.  I must admit that I could become accustomed to the reliability and consistency of this approach.  The rules are clear, followed in every exam, in every class. However, not all exams are created equal and not all courses might require an exam, but every class (except the lucky art courses) are required to have an exam of at least 30%.

I wonder if I can bring these procedures back to Ithaca.



The Singaporean Exam system reminds me of my AP and state standardized testing days, although the invigilators (whose roles I'm assuming are equivalent to those of proctors) are allowed more freedom. Does Singapore use the same procedures for quizzes? In your opinion, how would Ithaca benefit from these procedures?

I would also like to agree that the finding that 10 students, at most, in a room of hundreds of students to be overweight is outstanding. I am not sure if there is a classroom in the United States that has an equivalent percentage of obese persons to that of the Singaporean examination room.

It's funny to hear about the strict guidelines to proctoring an exam, especially being escorted to the toilet. I wonder if in Singapore there was rampant cheating previously until these strict guidelines were in place. They even go as far as to number your seating arrangement. This is similar to the SAT test where your last name is assigned to a particular seat in the room with people of mostly similar last names, atleast what they start with. I think this policy should be implemented into more policies. There is nothing wrong with this policy i see.

I must agree that upon reading this, I immediately thought of the SATs; a cold room with hundreds of other students with high tensions and strict rules. However, we must realize that in most parts of the world, exams are conducted in this fashion. Perhaps the US could take a hint or two from these methods. While they may seem over the top in comparison to a typical high school classroom, one can't argue that it is an effective way to prevent cheating and create an air of strict concentration.

Sounds a "chilling" experience. It makes one wonder if some tests actually measure what they are designed to measure. I suspect that some test takers simply don't do well because of some "environmental" factors, e.g., room too cold, room too hot. To say that all test takers are subjected to the same environment might be accurate, but how the environment (heat/cold) affects individual test takers is a different issue. Sounds like a possible graduate thesis.

This was a very interesting blog! It seemed like you had quite the "experience". What really interested me was when you talked about how it's always freezing when test are going on. I can remember it being extremely frigid when I would take my regents in High school and all I could think about was how cold it was. Weather could have an effect on test taking.

As other students said, after reading this I immediately thought of my experience with AP exams and other standardized tests we had to take since elementary school. Although we do not need to leave everything outside of the test site, we always have to turn in our electronic devices (phones, media players, etc.) before the exam and place them in a bin at the front of the final exam room.
It is unfortunate the room is kept so cold! I feel like it can definitely affect people's ability to take a test. Also, it does not seem as if the students are given a break during the test. At least during SAT tests and AP exams we had a short break in between sections if we needed a drink of water or had to go to the bathroom and would not have to waste valuable test time on satisfying these primary needs.
It is ironic how the test site itself is so monitored, while they could not spare one person to watch over the backpacks outside of the exam room where they are left "in an unsecured open area."
As far as cheating is concerned, I still think it would be hard to catch students who decide to cheat. These rooms are filled with 200-600 students, and although it did not list the number of proctors or invigilators watching the students take the test, there is no way every student could be watched 100 percent of the time. With the cold atmosphere and students bundling up, it would be easy to slip small pieces of paper and such into pockets or up a sleeve for a quick peep during the test or in the bathroom. A smaller classroom setting might be better for test taking, but it is nice to see that teachers still believe in the honor code and expect moral behavior from their students.

This is a very interesting way to see how other cultures school environments and testing methods. Its funny to see the differences between western and eastern education system, for example: how do students interact with authority or teachers? Do they ever talk back or even attempt to cheat? Or do they not even consider cheating as an option? What I found particularly intriguing is what and invigilator is. I understand the duty of this invigilator is similar to that of a proctor during the SATís but just a more Nazi like feel/ masked avenger.

The beautiful thing of having different educational systems all over the world is the fact that you can then be able to distinguish what works best and why. This system is very similar to how examination works in my home country, however, it certainly does not work properly there. The guidelines are pretty much the same, but the thing is that the teachers, who are supposed to be responsible for the proper order do not care hence the system doesnít work.

Saving this to my reading list (you gotta love the new Safari feature on iOS 5!). Great post.... P.S. Happy Friday, everyone :)

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