Do you want chips with that exam?

One of the entrants to our exam stories competition a few years back told of the Principal who paid a surprise visit to an exam only to find Betsy the invigilator with her feet up on the desk tucking into fish and chips!

Tcoffeehat one’s clearly a no-no, but what about invigilators having a cup of coffee or an energy bar during the exam?

Exam officers are divided. Some allow it, they even bring the coffee into the exam for invigilators if it isn’t possible to give tea-breaks. Others have a stricter policy, allowing only bottles of water. They say it isn’t fair if invigilators can have hot drinks or sweets/snacks when the candidates can’t. Instead, they take invigilators out of the exam for tea-breaks.

But that’s only possible when there are spare staff to provide cover. At the height of exam season, extra time and clashes might mean it isn’t possible to give breaks. From the invigilator’s perspective, that tea or coffee might be essential if they’re to stay alert through long exams. That energy bar might be necessary if they haven’t had a lunch-break.

So, allow invigilators that tea and/or energy bar, or say no?

Obviously it depends on the situation. How long is the exam? Are there other exams in the day, and is there opportunity to give invigilators a break? Is it in a large exam hall where invigilators patrol constantly, or sitting alone with one candidate for three hours? What type of exam is it – school, college, professional, online – and is there anything in the rules about whether invigilators can have food and drink?

If invigilators are allowed something more than water, it’s worth having a few guidelines, such as:

  1. Avoid distracting candidates with any sounds or smells. Minty breath isn’t popular, and definitely no bacon butties or fish and chips! Nothing in noisy wrapping.
  2. Keep drinks well away from any desk with papers on it. Have a pad or mat so you can put your drink down quietly and safely while you respond to a candidate.
  3. Use a lidded mug or even better, a hot-drinks flask you can drink from directly (e.g. La Playa), which looks no different from a water bottle. (But check the temperature – scalded invigilator is not a good look!) drink
  4. Make sure you can drink unobtrusively. Some bottles are surprisingly slurpy, and splash or leak.
  5. Adapt your tea-drinking to the length of the exam, so you don’t need a toilet break!
  6. Plan ahead if you might need to eat something – e.g. because you’ve not had a lunch break, or you feel faint. Have something bite-sized in noiseless packaging which can be eaten discreetly when no one is looking.
  7. Stay focused on the job. Never let that drink, sweet or snack get in the way of being vigilant and responding promptly to candidates’ needs.

But what do you think?

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