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You're sweating at your desk in the exam hall. Hating yourself, because why oh Why didn't you... Your stomach feels like it's in freefall. They told you this exam is going to decide your whole future. I guess that future's not looking terribly bright right now.

The invigilators are telling you you can start. You are surrounded by the sound of everyone around you opening their exam question booklets and scribbling - the sound of them knowing stuff. The smug bastards. You decide to face the inevitable. Surely you'll be able to wing it with just your wit and charm, like you've done so many times before? Your favourite aunt always said you were smart.

The first question crushes your hopes. You take a deep breath, and bravely, you read on. The second stomps on your hopes like high heels on a cigarette butt. You look through the rest of the paper in despair. Your life is over.

While you're hunched over your paper contemplating ways of ending it all (and your peers are hunched over their desks, knowing stuff), there's something going on around you that you and your fellow students may not be aware of.

In an internet chatroom run by The Times Educational Supplement and the comments to the BBC article on the subject, teachers have revealed that when they're doing their jobs as invigilators, they do not in fact just stand there watching the clock and watch you suffer. Human ingenuity dictates that people with so much time on their hands would find a way to entertain themselves - and invigilators, they certainly do.

Single-player games

For the less sociable invigilators, there are games to play by themselves. Linguists spend their time translating exam regulations into other languages. Creative types make figures out of Blu-tack. Those who like mathematics calculate the length of floorboards used to floor the exam room. Or count the number of bricks in a wall, and the height of a column that could be made from the bricks making the room. Or, count the shuttlecocks caught in the steel rafters of the gym in which the examinations are held. Then calculate the distance they travelled to become trapped.

Now, these may seem to the average person to be a little...dull. The joy of invigilating only really comes out when invigilators play together:

Group games

* One invigilator stands at one end of the hall. The others have to copy his or her movements from the other end.
* It is said that if you count the students wearing specs, divide this by the number of redheads in the hall and add the number of coughs in a 10-minute period, then subtract the number of students with visible nits, the answer is always four. (Another one for the mathematicians? Also, what happens if there are no redheads in the hall? Division by zero?)
* The "Good Kid/Bad Kid" game - in which one teacher uses the exam attendance grid to pick a pupil that their fellow invigilator does not know. The other teacher has to guess which category they fall into just by looking at them. It is said that they get the right answer 8 times out of 10.
* Races to be the first to get to a student who has his or her hand up.
* The fiercely contested "Who Can Hand Out The Extra Paper" game - won by the invigilator who gives out the most during the exam. "You have to judge where you think hands are going to spring up," explained one invigilator. "You start having veritable sprints between you to get to bewildered kids, or cleverly handing out reams of paper to a kid who only wanted advice."
* Competitions to spot the smelliest student. The best spelling mistake. Students wearing odd socks.
* The invigilator's version of the Battleships game, in which invigilators put crosses on a piece of paper to mark out the positions of students with "bad hair".
* The "Ugly" game - in which a teacher stands next to the pupil they think is the ugliest in the room, until he or she makes eye contact.
* Exam room "Chicken" - in which one invigilator walks toward another in the same aisle between desks, with the loser being the first to take evasive action to avoid a collision.
* Races to see who can walk the fastest lap of the hall. And, games of tag with each other as they make their rounds of the room. It is "just like the real game," explained one contributor to the chatroom, "but obviously no running."

So really - relax! It may not feel like it to you, but there is fun being had.

"Teachers' exam boredom: the ugly truth", http://www.weeklytelegraph.com/education/main.jhtml?xml=/education/2004/05/24/teninvig24.xml&sSheet=/education/2004/05/24/ixteleft.html
"Teachers reveal exam hall games", http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/3742915.stm
"Sir! Stop playing games during my exams!", http://news.homesandproperty.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=303927&in_page_id=1770

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