Examination Day

Optometrist machine. (Public domain.)

What if we pushed proctoring methods to their most draconian extremes?

Peter was patiently sitting in the waiting area of the examination room. The antechamber was rectangular, uncomfortably small, with white walls and floors, bright LED recessed lights in the unusually low ceiling, without any windows, two chairs, and just two identical metallic doors that faced each other: the one he used to come in, and the door that presumably led to the examination room itself. Either door was flanked by a security agent in what could only be described as heavy riot gear. The so-called educational enforcement agents took turns staring at Peter and at the only other student who was in the waiting area. Peter noticed the equipment that hang ominously from the belt of the security guards: a small pistol, a rubberized baton, a black bottle which he supposed to be pepper spray, and a device that he surmised to be a taser. One of the guards noticed that Peter was looking at his assortment of weapons, and ran a hand over some of them, in a threatening gesture indicating that he was ready to use them if need be.

The awkward silence in the room was only perturbed by the monotonous humming of the ventilation system, and the fast breathing of his fellow student. Peter looked at him for a moment, and as soon as the student looked up, the security guard yelled “NO EYE CONTACT OF ANY SORT!” so Peter diverted his eyes to look at the floor and keep waiting.

A few minutes later, an LED light on top of the door to the examination room changed color, turning from red to green, and a mechanical sound announced that the gate was now unlocked. An unfriendly computerized voice called “Mr. Lukov” and Peter stood up. The security agent opened the door, pointed at Peter, said “your turn”, and then pointed at the entrance. For just a split second, Peter saw the frightened face of the student he was leaving behind, and walked through to the next chamber.

The next room, as it turned out, was not the examination room. Or, at least, Peter surely hoped this was not the examination room, because it was tiny, almost as small as an old fashioned phone booth (which Peter had only seen in old movies). As soon as he entered, the agent closed the door behind him, and Peter stood in the minimalist room with a quizzical expression on his face. The door in front of him was locked. So he waited. The unfriendly computer voice announced “scanning for electronic devices” and the ceiling LED lights in the room turned blue. Mechanical sounds indicated that some device was working its way up and down inside the walls, so Peter waited some more. The instructions he had received prior to the examination were clear, “NO WEAPONS OR ELECTRONIC DEVICES ALLOWED,” so he was not carrying his phone or laptop. In fact, he was not carrying anything with him into the exam room. Nevertheless, all of a sudden an alarm started blaring, the room lights turned red, and the voice declared “ELECTRONIC DEVICE DETECTED” in its most unfriendly tone yet. Peter, in a panic, patted his pants looking for his phone, but he did not have it. The door behind him opened once again, and the agent yanked him out of the tiny scanning room, and yelled in his face “WHAT IS THAT” pointing at his wrist. Peter went livid as he realized that he had completely forgotten about his smart watch. He took it off, and the agent disposed of it in what looked like a garbage chute. Peter managed to lock eyes for a moment with the other student, who now looked pale as a ghost, ready to start crying.

Unceremoniously, the agent pushed Peter back into the scanning room, and closed and locked the door behind him. Once again the lights turned blue, the voice announced “scanning for electronic devices,” but this time there was no alarm. “Scanning complete,” it said, and the door in front of him unlocked. A new educational enforcement agent rudely ushered him into the next chamber. In this small room, there was a table and another person dressed in a lab coat. On the table, there was a machine which resembled the ones at the optometrist office. “Please sit down and place your chin here,” the lab coat person said. Peter obeyed, and the machine moved until two lenses were almost touching his eyes. The computerized voice commanded “proceed with retina identification” and the machine began scanning his eyes with a pair of red light beams.

“Identification of subject is complete. Mr. Peter J. Lukov. Proceed with baseline cardiac signal collection.”

The lab coat technician moved the retina scanner away, and wrapped a wireless band around each of Peter’s arms. A computer screen immediately started displaying a few graphs that seemed to follow Peter’s heartbeat and blood pressure. The technician typed some information into a database, and after a while, said “state your name and last name, for the record.”

“Peter Lukov,” Peter said.

“Middle name.”

“Jay,” said Peter.

“I said middle name, not middle initial,” retorted the lab coat, annoyed.

“It is Jay, J, A, Y,” clarified Peter without humor in his voice. The lab coat looked at him for a second to consider if Peter was mocking him.

“Your mother’s maiden name,” lab coat continued.

“Frey,” Peter replied.

“Your first pet’s name,” lab coat said in a monotone voice, looking at his keyboard.

“Falkor,” and an image of his beloved fluffy puppy flashed through Peter’s mind.

“Have you ever cheated in an examination,” lab coat said in an accusatory tone, looking straight into Peter’s eyes.

“Hmmm, ah, hmm, hm, … no,” Peter hesitated.

The graphs on the computer screen went wild. The lights in the room turned red. The educational enforcement agent put a hand on Peter’s shoulder and squeezed it, painfully, but the lab coat raised a hand signaling to stop.

“Mr. Lukov, let me give you one more chance. Have you ever cheated in an examination.”

“Yes, it was long ago though…” Peter began, but the lab coat raised his hand again asking him to stop. The lights turned blinding white once again. The agent let go of Peter’s shoulder. “We know all about it, Mr. Lukov, it is in your educational records,” the lab coat clarified.

After a few more questions, the technician asked Peter to stand, and the agent motioned him towards the next door. Peter tried to remove the bands around his arms, but the lab coat warned him “leave them on until the end of the examination.”

After leaving the lab coat behind in his small room, Peter found himself in a vast hangar, so large that he thought one could comfortably fit several 747 planes if need be. Many doors had opened at the same time, and many students, just like him, entered the examination area, escorted by educational enforcement agents. There were desks as far as the eye could see, and students were quietly taking their exams. The agent moved his head indicating that Peter should follow him, and brought him to a desk. The agent waited until Peter was sitting down, and then marched back towards the wall with the long row of doors.

The desk had a computer terminal on it, which became alive as soon as Peter sat down. A splash screen full of cheerful colors read “Welcome to your exam, student.” And then a message said “look directly to the camera for five seconds.” Peter found the small camera embedded at the top of the computer screen and counted to five in his head. An awful photograph of Peter in the hangar appeared on the screen (he looked haggard after a long night of studying for this test), with a message “Welcome, Peter J. Lukov!” The screen changed once again, now to a black screen with “Read instructions carefully” written in red font.

  • You have exactly 1 hour for this exam.
  • The computer will turn off exactly after 1 hour, and all unsaved work will be lost.

Peter noticed that a clock had already started its countdown at the bottom right corner of the screen. 59:59, 59:58, 59:57,… so he hurried to read the rest of the ten commandments:

  • You shall not disturb any other student taking an exam in the Jane and Edward Gantry Examination Center.
  • NEVER take your hands off of the keyboard during the exam. If you do, the computer will shut down and all progress will be lost.
  • Do not blink more than 5 times per minute. Excessive blinking will result in loss of identification credentials, and you will have to be subject to an additional retina scan.
  • Do not look anywhere except your computer screen during the exam. If the camera detects that your eyes are not on the screen or keyboard for more than 3 seconds at a time, the computer will shut down and all progress will be lost.
  • Speaking (or any other sound whatsoever) is NOT allowed in the examination room. ANY sound of 10 dB (decibels) or higher will result in a computer shut down.
  • STAY CALM: an excessive heart rate and/or blood pressure beyond your baseline will be interpreted as an attempt to cheat in this exam, and will result in an immediate computer shut down.
  • No questions are allowed during the exam.
  • Press any key to proceed to your exam.

Peter pressed the space bar, the screen displayed a cheerful “Good luck!” and then it displayed the first question of his Calculus 1 exam. On the bottom right corner of the screen the counter kept decreasing (58:32, 58:31, 58:30,…). On the top right corner Peter could see himself in a copy of the video feed. On the top left corner, a message blinked “Exam in Progress. Video Recording in Progress.” Finally, on the bottom left corner, a graph displayed his heart rate and blood pressure, which reminded him of the tight bands still wrapped around his arms.

Peter took a deep but silent breath, and began working on his exam. The first question was like nothing he had ever seen before in any of the homework exercises, so he fought the urge to physically scratch his head in puzzlement. With his hands still on the keyboard, he noticed the heart rate was climbing, so he took another silent deep breath, and started doing some calculations. After a few minutes (54:12, 54:11, 54:10,…), he had an answer and pressed the “SUBMIT” button on the keyboard (which was where “Enter” was supposed to be).

A new problem appeared on the screen, and he had just started working on it, when a loud sneeze came from a student a few rows in front of him. The student sneezed, and immediately cried “OH NO, NO!” as his computer shut down. In no time, an educational enforcement agent appeared out of nowhere ready to escort the student out of the examination room. The student yelled “fuck this shit!” and the unfriendly computerized voice boomed through the hangar “MR. TRAVIS JORGENSSEN, YOUR ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT OFFENSE (FOUL LANGUAGE) HAS BEEN REPORTED TO THE UNIVERSITY EDUCATIONAL AUTHORITIES.”

Peter fought back the irresistible urge to look at the student who was being escorted out of the room. And then he realized that his own nose was now itchy, and he panicked at the thought that a sneeze may follow. His blood pressure graph spiked, and a red warning sign that read “Stay Calm!” started blinking on his screen. He blinked twice, forced himself not to blink a third time, and concentrated once again on his exam. A new sneeze was heard far inside the hangar, and Peter could hear another student being forced to leave the room. He sighed and a mic symbol appeared on his screen, which seemed to measure the decibels of his sigh. At 7dB, the sigh was allowed, and Peter carried on.

He completed the second problem and pressed SUBMIT. A note appeared on the screen: “Just a friendly reminder that your answers are being automatically checked against online sources and other student solutions. Cheating and/or plagiarism will not be tolerated.”

“Thanks for the encouragement,” Peter thought, and stared at the third problem that had just appeared on the screen. Only now he realized that a banner on the lower part of the screen had an animated advertisement for a well-known soda company, which he found extremely annoying and distracting but, as the administrators said, “those ads pay for your affordable tuition,” even though tuition had never been affordable, and Peter would graduate with a daunting student loan.

The third problem had a glaring typo. One of the coefficients that appeared in an equation was “342y9” which made absolutely no sense. Peter looked around the screen for a “HELP” button, but none was to be found. He considered raising his hand, like in the good old days, but that would mean his hand leaving the keyboard, and the computer would shut down. “And didn’t the instructions say no questions allowed? But this was a typo!” Once again he fought back the urge to scratch his head, which was actually itchy, and tried to think what to do.

47:25, 47:24, 47:23,…

He had to make a decision now, so he figured that whoever typed the question was trying to reach a number near the letter “y” so the digit must be 6 or 7. The number 6 seemed to be closer to the letter “y” and Peter solved the problem with the coefficient “34269” in place of the typo. Peter would later find out that the digit was supposed to be a 0.

He pressed SUBMIT and the computer announced “There are 15 remaining questions in this exam. at this pace, you will only complete 12 of them.” Peter, enraged, picked up the pace, and his heart rate went right up to the allowable limit.

A few minutes later, he was absorbed in thought, when he heard a loud thud. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the student next to him had passed out. An educational enforcement agent took his sweet time to approach the unconscious student, and with a delicate kick with his boot, the agent seemed to determine that the medical condition did not require emergency care. The agent patiently waited standing next to Peter for two other agents who also arrived at a leisurely pace. Among the three of them, they awkwardly lifted the student by a leg, a leg, and an arm, and carried her away towards a door marked with a red cross.

Peter felt powerless and anxious, and his eyes watered a little. A warning came up on the screen: “Retinas are undetectable!” so Peter lowered his head for a couple of seconds to wipe his face with the sleeve of his hoody, without his hands ever leaving the keyboard.

Peter completed question after question, including those on topics that their inept professor had not covered, but they were on the syllabus, so they were responsible to learn on their own.

“Five minutes remaining, please wrap it up,” the computer warned, “and do not forget to save your results.”

By his own count, Peter had an additional six questions to complete, so he hurried up. Some students were already leaving, though according to their body expressions, they did not seem happy with their performance in the test. Seeing students leave, however, made Peter very anxious, and both his heart rate and blood pressure started to spike. Peter saved his progress, and continued furiously working, until the counter read 3, 2, (saved progress one last time), 1.

The screen went black for a moment, and then simply said “Enjoy your day!”

The computerized voice boomed “LEAVE THROUGH THE NEAREST EXIT” throughout the hangar and Peter, exhausted, walked outside, happy to get some natural sunlight on his face. He was about to walk away, when a familiar painful grip squeezed his shoulder. An educational enforcement agent was standing behind him. “You forgot to remove your arm bands,” and pulled them from Peter’s arms. “Have a nice day,” he said to Peter, and the agent returned to the hangar.

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