invigilate, proctor

A True Story
(would I lie to you?)

Once upon a time, a young American academic moved to South Africa. When it came to be exam season, her boss asked her to (BrE--and other Es) invigilate an exam.
"Invigilate? That sounds painful!" she cried.
"What do you call it then?" asked the bossman.
"(AmE) Proctoring!" she replied---reali{s/z}ing just a little too late how that sounded...
(Hat tip to Maverick for the request.)


  1. Invigilate (and by extension, the noun invigilator) is also Cdn.E. Or at least it's used in my university.

    Our uni also had a rector until a few years ago when the sitting rector went into retirement. The board of governors had a hard time finding applicants, so they renamed the position President in the hopes of attracting more American talent, as the story goes.

  2. In Oxford, the proctors are the disciplinary officers of the university. But they have nothing to do with invigilating. And as far as I know, in Oxford proctor is only a noun, not a verb.

  3. Completely off-topic...but Happy 4th to a fellow American expat!


  4. I've never come across either of these terms in Australia. Here they've always just been called exam supervisors, although I went to a relatively new university ; it's possible older universities use older words.

  5. I've just been reading the memoirs of Jim Corbett, who spent many nights (1900 - 1930 approx)sitting in various trees in India, waiting for man-eating tigers and leopards to return to their kills (using goats or buffalos as bait, you will be glad to know!!!).
    Similarly, we read all too often of bedside vigils in hospitals, protest marches and vigils after a boy has been stabbed, all-night prayer vigils ... in none of these cases is the word 'invigilate' used - it must purely be used for the supervision of examinations (at schools in the UK as well as universities).

    I have never heard of Proctors anywhere other than Oxford and perhaps Cambridge, and I haven't heard an associated verb.

  6. We call it invigilate at McGill.

  7. Actually, if you search for "invigilator" on Google, most of the results are from Canadian universities.

  8. I've heard 'invigilator' used in Australia (ANU). In fact, the first time I ever heard it used was just a few days before this post!

  9. I only ever heard the word "proctor" in that context growing up in Western New York. Then I started taking International Baccalaureate exams in high school (yes, City Honors School graduate here, that might or might not mean something to Lynne, probably not to anybody else). As I recall, I was very amused at the use in those exams (written in International English, as one might assume from the name) of the word "invigilator". It sounded to me like some sort of cybernetic crime-fighting robot, a la Robocop.

  10. And The Terminator, Malimar, I'm with you there. The Invigilator! But to invigilate sounds kind of naughty somehow too. Not
    The Vibrator, but The Invigilator! Har.

    Proctor sounds obscene as well, come to think of it.

    Or, it's possible that I'm in a strange mood (where everything sounds obscene) in which case, sorry.

  11. I'm very late to reply to this post, but I thought I would mention that the only time I ever saw "invigilator" in any context was on the instructions to our high school IB exams. It was new to quite a few people there, judging by the number of people who raised their heads and furrowed their brows as they mouthed "invigilator...?"

    People here are at least aware of proctor, but it seems an unnecessary substitute for supervisor, overseer, or monitor.

    Come to think of it, with the numerous existing ways to say "watcher," it's surprising the word was ever brought into the language at all.

    For the record, I am in central Texas.

  12. I say tomaito, you say tomaato...18 May, 2013 19:40

    Very late reply here, but I think it's worth mentioning.

    On my understanding, as a linguist and an English teacher who has worked in over 8 different countries for over 20 years, proctoring is normally used in AmE, and invigilating is normally BrE. That being said, the older, classic style universities in the UK, such as Cambridge and Oxford, tend to use proctoring as more of a supervisory role normally associated with disciplinary procedures. It is possible that the uni's in the US adopted the word 'proctor' in an attempt to sound more official, classic and of a higher educational authority.

    Just for the record, I am an American from NY, but I prefer BrE and have had to adapt my English during my travels to focus on BrE.

  13. The OED is careful to distinguish:

    a. Chiefly Brit. At certain universities, esp. those of medieval origin: each of a number of officers elected periodically and having mainly disciplinary and administrative duties.

    b. N. Amer. A person responsible for supervising student conduct (originally at a university); spec. (esp. in later use) a person who supervises students in written examinations; an invigilator.

  14. In New Zealand we also follow the same form as a lot of the UK universities. Examinations are invigilated (have a invigilator).

    Where as the Proctor refers to the academic officially in charge of student discipline, both academic and non-academic. As a note being told you need to have a meeting with the Proctor is often seen as the most scary thing imaginable as depending on the university they can have powers up to and including expulsion.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)