A Public Health Stranger in the Land of Medical Care
Thursday, May 6, 2010
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.