October 26, 2005

When the lawprof proctors the exam.

I've got a question for you law students. Do you like it when the professor proctors the exam (or would you like it)? What does the lawprof proctoring the exam signify to you? Seriously. I'm trying to figure something out.


Ruth Anne Adams said...

It could be several things:
Wants to watch the students suffer.

The exam was poorly written and is anticipating questions.

Nothing better to do.

Of course, I attended law school before proctor-blogging was invented.

F said...

I hated it as a student although my students say they like to have the lecturer there for the first twenty minutes or so in case of questions, meltdown etc...

I tend to think it encourages unnecessary questions though: if they have questions they know the invigilators will call the lecturer to clarify, when we're there they seem to imagine problems and get themselves into a real palaver...

Troy said...

Most of my lawprofs proctored their own exams. I don't recall caring either way since the exams were as self-explanatory as a Nazi-inspired torture instrument can be.

Maybe there's some "in it together" mojo if you're all there in one room -- as in "Why is my prof out blogging/squirrel chasing, etc. instead of here with me?" But that's both 1. a stretch and 2. whining.

In a completely unrelated vein. Can these word verifications be used in Scrabble? I could kill with all these Vs Qs and Bs in a triple word score.

Undecided said...

Fyi, in Britain, the verb 'to proctor' is 'invigilate,'and a proctor is an invigilator. Invigilator sort of sounds like the Grand Inquisitor to me. Off with their heads!

Plazaburger said...

You should be at the law school in your office during the exam. You are available to solve or explain a real problem within the exam, as when Smith & Dickey list incorrect staute sections during crim exams, but not the distracting focal point of a thousand needless questions from uptight gunners.

sblue9 said...

It generally didn't matter, and I never cared much one way or the other. It really only mattered once--the proctor was a total idiot and tried to joke with us before the exam and also whispered a lot to her co-proctor during the exam. I'm still annoyed about her, actually.

On some level it's nice to have the professor there--it means the professor is willing to give up her time while the students are going through the exam. I never saw it as a signal the exam was badly written, and I didn't think about it too much at the time; I was always far more focused on what I was about to go through.

Matt said...

Personally, I always liked the way it was at my undergrad, where exams were wholly unproctered, but professors generally remained in their office for the duration of the exam.

That said, I went to a school that had a strict honor code which was taken seriously by students and faculty alike, rendering proctors, at least in theory, superfluous.

Elle Woods said...

My 1L class had an issue with students not handing their exams in when time was called (and literally writing for 5 minutes after). Even though my section was in 2 different rooms it would have been nice to know the prof was in one of them taking note of who was cheating.

But, at my school a professor was also shot during an exam in the undergrad-so I do not harbor any hope that law profs will be dumb enough to start showing up anytime soon.

Ryan Hatch said...

Matt - I gather you went to BYU or some other such religious school. I went to BYU and can attest that there is plenty of cheating going on, so don't assume even in theory that the "honor code" alone is sufficient.

As to the question posed, I liked it when profs stayed to proctor the exam. It signifies to me:

1) that the professor doesn't think she has something better to do;

2) that she cares how the students do on the exam;

3) that she has carefully drafted the question - not being present is a sign that the professor doesn't want to face the inevitable questions from a poorly-writen exam;

4)that she wants feedback on how she taught, a good professor being be able to discern how well she taught just by observing students during the exam;

5) that she is secure and confident that she taught well.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that's my take.

Pat Patterson said...

As a graduate student I remember taking a Latin Silver Age Poetry final which consisted fo translating and then explaining some 200 lines of a Latin poem I thankfully do not remember. What I do remember is the proctor, the instructor, peeking over my shoulder, giggling and then walking away quickly, I suspect to avoid laughing out loud. Did wonders for my confidence.

me said...

If time is a major issue, you should be there at the end of the exam, so that people don't keep writing after time was up.

On a Herzberg two hour exam in Crim Procedure, people wrote over up to 15 minutes, which potentially made a huge difference.

You should be available during an exam in case there is a serious mistake in a question.

Danielle said...

I haven't had a law school exam where my professor remained in the room with us. Every professor has distributed the exam, and picked it up at the end, even arranging to have a Dean call time if we were in separate rooms. But none has remained in the room for the duration of the test.

I prefer that the professor leave the room. I feel like their part is completed at that point, and the exam is my job. I haven't had an exam that I felt was poorly written, so I don't share the concerns that others have expressed about a professor leaving to avoid questions from students. That said, I think it is a comfort to me to know that the professor is in his/her office and accessible if needed.

Danielle said...

And, frankly, the first thing that it would signify to me if they did remain is that we were not trusted to take the exam without cheating.

DRJ said...

My answer is based on experience in law school 30 years ago so it is clearly dated. However, most of our exams were proctored by the professor during the first year, but not in the second or third year classes.

I thought it was distracting when the professor came at the start of the exam, not only because of the many questions that people felt they had to ask, but also because I was anxious to read the questions and start writing. I thought it was equally distracting when the professor stayed throughout the exam - primarily because too many people took it as an invitation to ask questions.

Some professors would come in at the halfway point in the exam, but we rarely asked questions because we wanted to keep writing. (Any questions were asked and answered aloud, for everyone to hear, but there was no extension in the time allowed to finish the exam so questions were rare.)

I do recall that most of my professors returned at the end of class to make sure the exams were turned in on time. There were always a few people who felt they could safely write beyond the time limit when the only oversight was a student proctor.

DRJ said...

I'm sorry. You directed this question to law students. Please disregard my rambling.

The Exalted said...

our exams were, by rule, administered by proctors

i thought it was beneficial knowing in advance that there could be no questions, as to anything, in the exam room

the presence of the professor invites unnecessary questions and is somewhat distracting, etc

especially to a bunch as neurotic as law students

Eli Blake said...

I don't teach law. I teach math.

But what I have observed is that the more tightly an exam is proctored (and in particular, by me) the less students attempt to cheat.

And unfortunately, there are more students who cheat now than there used to be (I've been teaching for twenty years). This summer I caught two students cheating who had actually signed a contract promising not to cheat. I don't know what it is, but there is a certain segment (though fortunately still not numerous) among current students (especially those fresh out of high school) who believe that

1: they are invincible and so smart that they won't get caught (no matter how brazen their cheating actually is),

2: believe they can lie their way out of any situation and don't have any problem at all looking you in the eye and telling a lie, and

3: almost go through life with a video-game like trance and just about expect they will be able to hit 'replay' when they screw up-- and probably HAVE done that in the past when they were spoiled rotten by parents, a few easy-to-fool high school teachers and coaches, among others. The idea that they could one day be building a bridge for people to drive on when they don't understand basic math doesn't even enter their minds--it's all about getting the grade-- and if it does, they probably figure they can cheat their way around that one too, or find a computer program that can do it for them (many of them are quite smart and techno-savvy), or if the bridge collapses, well somehow they will find a way to make sure someone else gets blamed.

I'm not saying that describes all, most, or even a very large proportion of today's college students (most of whom are good, honest and hard working) but trust me, Anne-- this component is out there, I know because I've sat down and talked to several, and the gears aren't running quite the way they should. Proctoring their exam personally may at least limit the cheating, though, TO this group, and then you can focus on catching them.

Scipio said...

It signified two things to my fellow students at Ole Miss:

1. You're the one professor not smart/ambitious enough to get the hell out of Oxford for the winter;


2. You enjoy watching students suffer.

angieoh! said...

I am a UW Law alum and I absolutely hated it when professors proctored the exam. I felt like they were watching me drown. I know that sounds a little dramatic but I much preferred a ambivalent grad student.

sep said...

as a grad who's proctored many exams let me tell you that having the prof there absolutely makes a difference in the level of cheating. it's also nice to have the prof there if something goes wrong - we once were 100 exams short and had to send for more - a situation that was made even worse because no one knew where the other half of the class was taking the exam or if they had any extras. i'll never do that again! but, maybe the law school is better organized than over here in social sciences and these things don't happen to your proctors.

Kirk said...

I would prefer it if my professors were in the same room with the test takers. I'm borrowing a bit from the principle of encoding specificity here: A great deal of thought and discussion about the particular subject matter takes place in the class room- where my fellow students and the professor are all together. With the prof present, the exam might feel a bit more like another class session (which hopefully is a good thing).

Ultimate_Lawyer said...

As is the case in all questions in law school, the answer is "it depends." If the professor is competent and can write a cogent exam free of confusing typos, then the "professor as proctor" model can have a detrimental effect on the exam, as profs are compelled to provide the clueless student who doesn't know how to read yet is gregarious enough to ask for preferential treatment/an answer to his question.

On the other hand, if the prof is some incompetent adjunct recently hired by a fund-deprived state institution that engages in zero oversight over the exam, then he/she must serve as proctor so as to correct the confusing directions or lack thereof, or potentially misleading typos.

Mary said...

If the professor does proctor, they should not be the ones "collecting" the exams. They should stand off to the side. Then, if students want to say goodbye, thank them, or share thoughts about the test, the rest of the group does not have to wait to turn in their exam, or seem rude if they "butt in" to drop theirs in the pile because they have to leave right away. Also, if you were one of the professor's good students, shown in how they respond to you in discussion, you might like them to be there, for moral support or whatever. If you were not, you might not like them watching you take the exam, especially if they are actively observing you, (ie what you're drinking, how much you're flipping through your notes, how much time spent writing, etc.) which generally a neutral proctor does not. Is cheating such a big thing on law school essay exams that the professor needs to be in the room? I doubt it. Sure these exams are graded anonymously, so what you do taking the test does not factor into the grade. But if you just want to turn in the bluebook and be done with it, do you have to wait your turn in line and have a good word in the end for the professor? Who gains by this?

Ann Althouse said...

Mary: You raise a lot of the points that I am concerned about too. I've actually decided not to proctor anymore. The teacher has a different effect on different students, and it would be better to have a neutral environment. Most of the teachers who believe in proctoring sincerely think they are giving the students support. It's not about catching cheaters or enjoying watching students suffer. The professors really believe they are helping students. I wrote this post to see if that belief was well-founded.