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serenade

What do you do while proctoring an exam?

12 posts in this topic

Just out of curiosity, what do you personally do while proctoring an undergrad exam? Pace down the aisles? Just sit at the front? Do work/read? Remind students at regular intervals how much time they have left (or do you find this distracting)? 

Also, do you make students bring bookbags to the front of the class? Make them take off hats etc? 

Co-proctoring an exam with my fellow TA today made me realize how different our approaches to proctoring are. Just curious what other people do. 

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1. Books, coats, etc. in the front. 

2. I tell them ahead of time that I'll announce times at whatever are appropriate intervals, so I do that. (I write the time left on the board, and only announce 5 minutes / 1 minute/ time is up.)

3. I pace up and down the isles once in a while, because I've learned that there are people who will raise their hands just as I come by, but will not raise their hands if I'm just standing or sitting in the front. (There are of course also those who aren't as shy and raise their hand whenever they need to, but there's a surprising number of shy students.)

4. I also sometimes go stand in the back, behind them, so cheaters can't see where I am. I actually find that to be the best place to stand. But most of the time I just hang out somewhere on the side and try not to disturb anyone. 

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A lot of this depends on class size. A class of 150-200 I work differently in than a class of 20. 

I let them bring whatever to desks, but require that it all be put away and they don't reach into things. 

I pace for larger rooms, but I find it can really bother some students to have me lurking as they work- as Fuzzylogician mentions, however, some shy students won't raise a hand. 

I announce times- half left, 1/4 left, and then the 10/5/1 minute warnings. 

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Thanks, guys. So the prof I'm TAing for left me and my fellow TA to proctor the final today. After it was over, I had four students complain to me that the other TA's behavior during the exam was distracting and they had trouble focusing. I'm curious if the following behavior sounds problematic to you and whether you think it's worth letting the professor know about the students' complaints. During the exam the other TA: 

-paced the aisles of a relatively small classroom (40 students) for two hours straight...up and down over and over and over  
-alerted the class at frequent intervals with seemingly ill fitting instructions ("you now have an hour and a half left...now would be a good time to make sure your name is on your paper"; "you now have an hour left...right before you turn it in, say the word 'mississippi' in your head 100 times and then proofread" etc etc) 
-rushed over to students when they dropped a pencil/water bottle to pick it up for them, even if they were on the other side of the room from where he was pacing at that moment 
-tried to talk to me or write notes to me on the board while I was sitting at the front of the classroom (I generally tried to ignore him)
-before the exam even started, he told everyone he was now going to "put the fear of God in everyone" about cheating and gave a monologue about it 
-made everyone take off their hats so he could inspect them 
-threatened not to let anyone go to the bathroom 
-when students one by one came to the front to turn their papers in at the end, he would try to carry on extended conversations with them without even whispering even though other students were still working 

Do you think it's worth telling the professor about the students' complaints so that he could talk to the other TA about this behavior for future reference? (fwiw, this prof is both of our advisors)   

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My own rhet/comp classes are usually either an essay or an assessment for the university, It's very difficult to cheat on the literature finals that I have proctored for professors. The questions are quotes and the answers are essay explications and so subjective that it's almost impossible to cheat. I watch to make sure they don't have a textbook with them or any notes and that's about it.

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It really depends on the class and the policies. I don't proctor exams at my current school because proctored exams are against school policies. Profs are encouraged to have take-home exams whenever possible, but when profs decide that students must take an exam at a certain time, the policy is that no instructors or TAs are to be present.

At my MSc program, I only proctored exams for courses where I was not the course's TA. They hire extra TAs to act as proctors for the really big classes (500-1000 students, split into rooms that have 50-100 students each). The policy for that course was that proctors are not to answer any questions about the questions in the exam itself, not even to clarify questions, because it's not fair for the students who have the actual course TA in the room vs. non-course TAs. The only questions we can answer are things like "how much time is left" or other logistical questions. Sometimes we have to do some checks like the type of calculator and ensure they don't bring more than the allowed amount of notes. At some other exams, the TA needs to go by each of these "notes sheets" and sign them and then they get turned in with the exam (not really sure how this really prevents a determined cheater but it's not my policy!)

We didn't have much individual choice when it came to things like where to put bags. I think it was all in the front. For things I have control over, such as walking around, I try to really limit it to avoid distracting students (since I can't answer their questions anyways). Typically I arrange it so that I only walk down each aisle twice in the entire exam session. I like staying in the back most of the time because that lets me watch the students without them feeling like I am scrutinizing them. Like fuzzylogician, I tell students ahead of time about my "time left" announcements so they know what to expect, and I do what eigen does (1/2 time, 1/4 time, 10, 5, 1). 

3 minutes ago, serenade said:

Thanks, guys. So the prof I'm TAing for left me and my fellow TA to proctor the final today. After it was over, I had four students complain to me that the other TA's behavior during the exam was distracting and they had trouble focusing. I'm curious if the following behavior sounds problematic to you and whether you think it's worth letting the professor know about the students' complaints. During the exam the other TA

To me, the listed behaviour sounds like a big distraction. It also sounds like the other TA is acting out of worry and concern for the students, however their actions are hurting the students more than they help! I would suggest that you talk to your co-TA first and approach it from this angle (recognize that they are trying to help, but show them why it's not helpful, gently). I think it only makes sense to talk to the professor if your talk with your co-TA doesn't work out.

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47 minutes ago, serenade said:

Do you think it's worth telling the professor about the students' complaints so that he could talk to the other TA about this behavior for future reference? (fwiw, this prof is both of our advisors)   

What did you tell the students you would do with their complaints? Unless *they* understood the issue to have been resolved right there, I think it's your obligation to let the professor know. You should probably also let the other TA know that there were some complaints, and you felt that you had to let the prof know. In the future, if you think fast enough on your feet, the best thing to have done would have been to tell the students to take the complaint directly to the professor and leave you out of it; nothing good can come of this for you (generally, you don't complain about an employee's performance to a peer, you go to a manager). But yes, from your description that sounds like distracting behavior. None of those in isolation is too bad, but if combined and done to an extreme, some students might be negatively affected -- though it'll be impossible to quantify how much. 

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When I was in my masters program, I was basically forced to walk a continuous loop around the lecture hall (with about 150 students) along with the professor and our lab coordinator for an hour. I was specifically required to scan the crowd for any signs of cheating and I was allowed to answer student questions (however, I usually deferred to the professor, as I was proctoring for a class that I had very little experience in and typically had no idea how to clarify questions). I did the same thing for the 2-hour final. The professor would always make a statement about cheating at the beginning and make everyone remove their hats. Students also had to "check out" if they wanted to use the bathroom - they had to leave their exam with me and show that their pockets were empty (so they weren't just going to the bathroom to look up answers on their phone) and were given 5 minutes. So the pacing behavior of your co-TA is perhaps not entirely uncalled for, particularly if he/she went experienced this kind of proctoring as an undergrad. However, the constant time reminders and weird statements would be a bit distracting, along with the pencil grabbing. Providing a statement about cheating at the beginning of the exam also isn't out of the ordinary, but turning into something weird and uncomfortable is. I would probably let the TA know that students are not responding favorably to this and that they could try limiting their announcements and pacing.

At my current school, I do not pace at all and instead hang out at the front of the room. I also only have about 40 students to proctor, although last year we had closer to 400 students in one room with 8 TA's co-proctoring - however, the professor decided that was terrible and spread out the students this year. I have to read some announcements at the beginning and make students have their belongings tucked under their desks, hat brims turned backwards, and are seated with empty seats in between them. I also cannot answer any questions aside from English language questions. I am also not supposed to let anyone use the bathroom. I bring up a clock on the big screen and remind them of how much time they have left at about 15 minutes and 5 minutes. I generally spend my time working on my laptop while occasionally checking on them.

Last term, I co-proctored with someone who insisted on talking to me the whole time. She whispered, but I'm sure students could still hear her sometimes. She also brought her dog and left him in the car during the exams, so she would be constantly worried about how he was doing. It was really annoying and I'm so glad to proctor alone this term.

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It depends on the size of the course and the room's layout, as others have suggested. I could never take a test with the person you described, @serenade. The talking @shadowclaw describes would also be intolerable to me. I would be completely distracted and wouldn't be able to do my best. My preferred strategy is to hang out on the side of the room and just keep an eye on what's happening. I'll walk around a little but try not to do it much and make sure I'm wearing shoes that won't make a lot of noise while I'm doing so. 

I understand people's fear of cheating but there are so many things you can do in test design to minimize this that won't potentially distract students.

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I sit and stare awkwardly at the students to make sure they don't cheat. Then after I get bored of that, I am on my phone or reading something.

I let them have their stuff close by to them but I can see it from where I am sitting. I typically teach smaller classes though so it is easy for me to see everyone. I don't like pacing up and down the aisles. It makes me nervous when someone is looking over my shoulder so I don't like doing it to other people.

The only time I remind students of the remaining time is if there are one or two of them left and it is getting relatively close to the end of class. But those students are typically those who already did the test and are just going over the answers. I have never had a student run out of time while taking an exam.

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When I TAed for classes that were in a fairly small classroom, say seating at most 50 people or so, I would mostly stay at the front with the professor and only walk through the aisles to answer questions from students. I think walking around in a relatively small classroom can be disruptive. I'm now TAing a larger class and the exams happen in a 150-200 person lecture hall. I do think it is worth walking up and down the aisles a couple of times during the exam, both for shy students and to go stand at the back. From the front, it's easy to see if somebody always has their eyes on the exams in front of or beside them, but from the back you may identify other kinds of cheating. I wish I didn't have to be so vigilant, but my school has serious problems with cheating in many of the large introductory courses from many departments. We also require students to bring their exams to the front and leave their phones if they need a washroom break. This doesn't really prevent cheating during a washroom break, since we don't escort them, but I guess it's something. 

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Make sure they don't cheat - especially if everyone has the exact same copy of the exam and there aren't multiple versions of it. It's also a good idea to wear quiet shoes so they don't hear you when you're walking. This job is especially important if it's a large group and the ratio of students per proctor is low 

I was once in a bad situation with hundreds of students (easily over 500) with far too few proctors to keep a good eye on everyone and there was likely cheating going on while they all lined up to submit their exams at the end. I even found an ever so tiny scrunched up cheat note on the floor that was clearly flicked across the room at some point in time during the exam after it was no longer needed. As all the students were gone, it was impossible to figure out who it belonged to. 

I found that during this particular exam, it was impossible to keep your eye on everyone, you just did the best you could. Luckily other exams had a better ratio of students to proctors and some profs strategically created multiples versions of the exam to prevent this problem from occurring. (I guess that's what happens when you attend a low budget school. Money is limited and it isn't put into the right things. lol)  

 

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