'If you'll just come this way...'
After a day of invigilating and marking tests yesterday, I had hoped to have a few howlers to report to you. Well, sorry – there was nothing worth passing on. My hopes were raised on seeing ‘over the decade, figures rose shittily’, but the student had handwriting like the tracks of a sprayed cockroach in its final throes and I had to accept the word was actually ‘steadily’. Great pity, that.
Today was the testing and marking marathon of the year. Four hundred and twenty new students did placement tests for the pre-sessional, which is five weeks of academic square-bashing that overseas students are required to do as a condition of entering their chosen departments in October. The whole bunch of them was corralled into a lecture theatre for an assortment of prefatory and exhortatory speeches, and then they had to come out in groups to have their visas checked by the admin staff. For this a post-office queuing system – one queue, five desks – had been set up, differing from the post office in that all five desks were actually manned. The lady in charge had originally put a sign at the head of the queue reading ‘Please wait for a vacant administrator’ but – great pity again, sorry – thought better of it and amended it to ‘Please wait here’. This took bloody ages and meanwhile the centre director diverted the waiting multitudes with games of hangman. I really do wonder what they make of us sometimes.
At length large groups were carted off for testing, leaving three colleagues and me with fifty kids (for so they seem to me now) in the lecture theatre for the listening and grammar tests. The listening test is a bugger. On the CD you hear a hundred rapidly spoken sentences, and on your question paper you have this sort of thing:
1) Let’s go have a SIT / SHIT in the garden.
You listen to the CD and tick the word you think you hear. The sentences on the test paper are not so broadly drawn or as susceptible to a top-down interpretation as my example, but you get the idea. The whole hundred sentences are rattled off in nine minutes flat, as expressions first of horror then amused resignation pass across students’ faces. The four tutors looked at one another with raised eyebrows, and certainly none of us would have scored 100%.
As we were distributing the grammar test, the centre director showed in a late arrival from the Middle Kingdom.
‘He’s missed the listening, has he?’
‘Roit… well, maybe you can calculate his score based on his grammar test,’ he suggested enigmatically.
Calculate his listening score based on a grammar test... Maybe we could do it based on his shoe size? Or the remaining units on his mobile phone? I think not. We decided he could have his own private test after the rest of the group had gone for lunch. So the lad listened with the usual reactions as the nine-minute recording hurtled by like a very long goods train. Then he asked ‘I can examine my test?’
He sat for a good five minutes, poring over the paper, making emendations here and there, then amending the emendations.
‘What the bloody hell’s he doing?’ I communicated by eye-movements over his head to my colleague.
‘No bloody idea,’ she telepathised back.
I mean, it’s gone now, over, how do you expect to check your answers with any degree of conviction? Maybe he’s a Memory Man and can mentally play back what he’s just heard? Buggered if I can explain it otherwise.
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with marking the 840 papers. The tedium of this was mitigated by the provision of a buffet lunch, and the absurdity of matching up each listening paper with the same student’s grammar papers, a kind of ‘Happy Families’ that requires people to enquire: ‘Have you got a Dong?’ ‘Anybody got a Wang?’
So the course proper starts tomorrow. Fifty more students are expected, and classrooms will be jammed. It’s gonna be a long five weeks, possibly followed by very thin times indeed, so I’m hoping for some howlers and tittersome incidents to relate, as these could be very few and far between in the next academic year.