It takes a village to manage exams 

By Karen Herland

Invigilators are equipped for one of dozens of exam schedules held at end of term. Magnifying glass

Invigilators are equipped for one of dozens of exam schedules held at end of term.

If you’ve ever been frustrated scheduling a dinner for six friends, or coordinating vacation dates for a big family, you can appreciate what Linda Hull faces every exam period.

“We have 1 100 to 1 200 exams on both campuses to schedule each December and April,” says the supervisor of registration and examinations. “And one course may have many different sections.”

Hull, with a team of three others (two of whom are part-time), coordinates the logistical puzzle that slots the bodies into three time slots per day over 16 days in multiple classrooms on two campuses.

This exam period required 235 invigilators. Of those about a fifth were brand new. Hull says the trend over the last five or six years has been to hire graduate students.

“It’s good that they are associated with the university, but there’s a high turnover. If they only come to us in their second year, they’re gone shortly after,” says Hull.

John Donovan represents a different kind of invigilator. He got involved through a friend who worked at Concordia nearly twenty years ago, while between jobs. “He’s been here longer than I have,” says Hull, who’s been coordinating exams since 1995.

Donovan now works elsewhere, but he continues to invigilate evening and weekend exams. “It keeps you abreast of things, I like it.”

Lois Jaworski agrees. She got involved six years ago, also through a friend working here. “I like working with young people.”

Donovan says that his role has changed over the years. “It is much more strict. Now we keep track of unused questionnaires and we distribute numbers for seating.”

Hull introduced numbered cards a few years ago, after a successful test run during the quieter summer cycle. The assigned seating ensures that friends won’t sit near each other. The cards are printed with relevant university policy so students can no longer claim they were not made aware of the rules.

When Hull spoke to the Journal a few days before the end of the winter exam period, she said there had fewer than 20 violations of the academic code filed through her office, a fraction of the number of people writing exams. And violations don’t automatically mean that students were caught cheating.

Students can be charged because they have a cell phone with them. The potential for communicating via text messages makes cell phones entirely prohibited. Donovan says students have become so attached to their cell phones in the last couple of years, that they completely forget they have them. “They may not remember the pencil they need to write the exam, but they have a phone.”

Hull adds that students forget to shut them off and ringing phones can disrupt an exam from the jumble of bags and belongings at the side of the class.

For Hull, exam period is the home stretch. She starts determining the number of exams in January for the April exam period. She sends a tentative schedule by the end of January and integrates changes over the next two weeks. Once the schedule is finalized, room booking begins. Multiple exams can be held simultaneously in Loyola’s Gaudagni lounge and gym and other assorted buildings.

When room bookings are finalized, it’s time to think about personnel. Ideally, professors should be one of the two invigilators at an exam. But that does not always work with multiple sections of a course. New invigilators are interviewed individually, hired and trained. Then they are scheduled. Supervisors travel from room to room, offering support if students fall ill or help tracking down a professor when questions about exam instructions arise.

By the time exams are being administered, the tough part is over but Hull says she has very little down time before she starts the process all over again for the next term.


Concordia University