Saturday, April 18, 2009

Your collection will be invigilated.

I thought that after one term I knew most of the crucial Oxford terminology: Winter term is Hilary, spring is Trinity, Fall is Michaelmas. Magdalen college is pronounced “Mawdlen”, and I learned what “Desummoned” means here.

Then I got an email that completely baffled me “Please let me know if you need your collection invigilated”. Huh?

Well, “Collection” is the Oxford word for the exams that occur at the beginning of Hilary and Trinity to make sure that the students are learning what they are supposed to be learning and that they are studying over the break (collections do not really count on the student’s final record). “Invigilate”: I confess, I did not know this word, but indeed it is even in Webster’s (OED also includes this word, but that is not evidence of anything, since OED seems to list every bit of babble anyone has ever uttered).
in•vig•i•late \in-ˈvi-jə-ˌlāt\ verb in•vig•i•lat•ed; in•vig•i•lat•ing
Latin invigilatus, past participle of invigilare to stay awake, be watchful, from in- + vigilare to stay awake. First usage 1553

intransitive verb: to keep watch ; especially British : to supervise students at an examination. transitive verb: supervise, monitor
So there you have it. I’m not sure if this is standard British usage or if it is Oxbridge specific. (Any non-Oxbridge Brits want to comment?). I have to assume that the American analog “Proctor” would sound like an unpleasant medical procedure?


Anonymous said...

Invigilating isn't just Oxbridge, it's used to refer to people overseeing exams in secondary schools (and I assume other universities) as well.

Saying 'proctor' at oxbridge might lead to confusion since that's what the 'university police'-type people are called. It might be especially confusing in Cambridge at least because here the proctors walk into exams and doff their hats to the invigilators occasionally.

Steve said...

Thanks for clarifying!