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Examinations: Tips to Organizing and Managing School Exams

By Gillian Hendrie

So you are in charge of running student examinations? Make the process run smoothly by organizing ahead of time and learn how best to serve the needs of those taking exams as well as ensuring the school continues to function for everyone else! Written with Middle and High School in mind.

Know Your Task

It’s internal exam time and you have the unenviable task of organising the exams. Here are some ideas to help.

First of all, ascertain which subjects and courses are to be examined (as opposed to ongoing assessment, projects etc.) and that your proposed set of exams is in line with your school’s assessment policy. (This writer does not believe in too much testing.) Do any exams require special arrangements: e.g. does the IT exam need to be done in the IT lab?

The Exam Schedule

The exam schedule should be produced well in advance of the first exam and given to teachers to check:

a) all courses and classes to be examined have a slot

b) the length allowed for each exam is correct

c) any location requirements have been considered.

Exam Scripts

Send all exam writers the set template for the front page of the exams, if there is one. Exam papers should be prepared in plenty of time, then proofread at least twice before being copied and sent to admin for secure storage. Check each copy thoroughly for printing or copying errors. Include enough spare copies for the invigilators and members of the department, if required. Admin must ensure that the exams are locked away until collected by the chief invigilator.

Admin Checks

Admin should also check that:

a) no one student has “too many” exams on one day or overlapping exams.

b) any subject/course which needs to be examined at a particular time (e.g. visiting examiners for music practicals) has the correct date(s) and time(s) allocated.

c) the room(s) is/are suitable for the purpose of each exam and the number of students who should be sitting it.

d) enough* invigilators have been appointed.

e) an invigilation roster has been prepared, if appropriate; if teachers are to invigilate exams, non-specialists are posted in each exam: e.g. no English teacher should invigilate an English exam.

Before we begin...

Before the first day of exams, all students concerned should be given their own individual exam timetable with dates, times and roooms clearly identified. They should also know which areas are no-go and/or silent areas during the examination period. Posters announcing "SILENCE - EXAM IN PROGRESS" or similar must be clearly displayed, and a special assembly may be called to explain how students are to get around the school, avoiding these areas whenever possible.

Students not sitting exams at this time need to be equally aware of these special arrangements and how long they will be in place, as well as your expectations regarding conduct during this time.

Further communication with staff and students

School hours: Are teachers’ working hours changed during the exam period? What are the times you expect students to be in school – only for exams, normal hours or a new schedule? Are they to go to normal classes when they don’t have exams? Can they come to school when they don’t have exams, e.g. to speak with teachers? If so, are there special areas you want them to use?

Don't forget the auxiliary staff - has it been made clear to them that exam halls must be avoided during exam times?

The exam hall

Students' desks: Of course, the desks and chairs must be set out apropriately and in time. Do you know who is responsible for this? Good communication is vital! In addition, does the school have a policy on what students are allowed to have on their exam desk? Be clear about calculators, notes etc. Is there a policy on lucky keyrings etc? Are pencil-cases allowed or only the pens themselves? (One of my previous schools allowed only transparent pencil-cases.) Ensure students know there are to be no mobile phones, whether on silent mode or switched off.

Distractions: If the school has a PA system, consider having the loudspeaker(s) in the exam room disabled for the examination period. Music teachers and students must refrain from practicing anywhere near the exam room (at least if non-soundproofed) for the duration of each exam. Consider covering up windows in the exam hall.

Clocks: For all timed exams, clocks must be present, highly visible and accurate.

Whiteboards: It could be useful to have a board for any errata announcements to the students.

Students' bags etc.: Is there an area (inside or outside the exam hall) for students to leave their belongings?


The invigilation (proctoring) roster should be displayed in an appropriate place. You need to ensure that all exams are covered. Always check that invigilators are present from at least the time set for students to start entering the exam room.

If teachers are to invigilate exams, non-specialists should be posted in each exam: e.g. no English teacher should invigilate an English exam. However, you may want the exam setter or Head of Department to be available to check out any potential problems by being in the exam room for the first five to ten minutes, or just to be in a fixed place should one of the invigilators need to go to him/her to check out a query.

Clear instructions must be given to invigilators by admin and/or by the individual exam setters, so that they know their duties and what to read out to students:

  • Where do they collect the papers from and how long before the exam begins?
  • Under which circumstances are students who come late allowed into the exam room?
  • Does anyone get extra time?
  • Should the papers be on desks before students enter or handed out after they are seated?
  • Should a 10-minute/5-minute warning be given?
  • How should exam scripts be collected and where should they be returned to?
  • Should the invigilators count the number of papers collected?
  • If more than one exam is being taken at the same time, is it clear who gets which paper? Are there any special seating arrangements in this case?

There must be a seating chart available to be checked by the invigilators at the start of every exam.

Other considerations

Lunches: Ensure that cafeteria staff adjust meal times, if appropriate, to fit the exam schedule.

School buses: These may have to be organized differently. If students have a delay between finishing their last exam for the day and being able to go home, provisions have to be made for them – where can they go (also considering potential bad weather)? Is there an area in which they can study for the next exam?

External examiners: Visiting examiners need to have a base somewhere in the school.

Music performance: Pianos to be used in exams should be tuned!

Supervisors: Have supervisors available for those students who leave the exam hall early (if this is allowed) and for the areas around the exam hall.

Telephone: Should there be a working telephone in the room? (There are pros and cons to this arrangement.)

Temperature: Is the A/C or heating fully functional?

Posters: Should any posters on display be removed?


Phew! The exams are over; school life gets back to normal; now comes the marking....

For internal exams, is it clear who is to mark each exam? (Departments usually organize this themselves.) Is there a set time for having all exams marked and grades sent into admin and/or the data entered into a computerized system?

For external exams, who is responsible for checking the scripts and sending them away? Remember that artwork, design technology creations etc. may require special handling. Be clear when results will be announced and/or exam scripts returned, if appropriate.

Have a break

And now it's all over........ for another few months!