Are there cameras in standardized testing center bathrooms?
August 13, 2015 12:51 AM   Subscribe

How do the testing centers know you don't have math formulas written all over your underwear for a nice little review during the bathroom break? and other very very very important life questions.

I'll keep this "short" because I really should be studying but I randomly thought of something and it's kind of bothering me.

I'm taking the GRE for the second time soon. Last time I was there, and I'm assuming it's always some variation of this, we had the 10 min break between sections. We were allowed to get a snack and go to the bathroom. So they are obviously watching you when you're eating your snack in the lobby area and I guess they would stop you from bringing anything into the bathroom during your break like a purse where you could have a study guide or something... but how do they know you don't have math formulas written some place crazy on your body and that while you're in the bathroom, you're also doing a quick study session?

The security check was crazy the first time I went. I think that actually made me so nervous it kind of screwed me up for the rest of the test. So it seemed strange to me that on my break they weren't THAT concerned with what was going on. The bathroom wasn't even in the testing area, it was in the hallway of the office building.

I realize how insane this sounds but I was thinking about it and the whole process is so secure with the metal detectors, body pat downs, cameras all in the room yet there's the freedom to go to the bathroom un-attended. (which, I mean, there should be). So I started wondering... do they have cameras in bathroom stalls? That would be illegal, right?

****I'm by no means wanting to test this, it's just something I haven't been able to get out of my head since my first time taking it. I'm crazy nervous enough as it is and this would put me over the edge. ****

P.S. Any last minute advice on how not to have another panic attack during the test? Of course I've browsed through past questions but any extra tips would be great.
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total)
To me this looks like a minimal risk: If I understand correctly you can only go to the bathroom between sections, which means you can't read the questions, go to the bathroom to look up the answers and then come back and write them up. All the other measures are there to stop you from bringing help into the classroom and/or consulting help while you are taking the test.

A camera in the bathroom would only stop the people who didn't manage to learn their math formulas in all their preparation, yet manage to memorize the one they will need for questions they haven't seen yet by reading it off their butt during a 10' bathroom break - given the huge hassle that supervising your bathroom break would be, it doesn't sound to be worth it.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:15 AM on August 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

The time is already a limiting factor here. No one will be able to gain any useful information out of a quick peek at their underwear. Anyone who is in the bathroom longer than 10 minutes, ie the time it takes to use the bathroom normally, is under suspicion.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:21 AM on August 13, 2015

I'm pretty sure it's illegal to have cameras in bathrooms.
posted by radioamy at 6:57 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Consult your doctors first, of course, but it looks like a low dose of an anti-anxiety med might be in order. It's helpful for many people in your situation.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:10 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nthing that time is the limiting factor, not reference information. I didn't see any bathroom cameras to prevent hypothetical formula review when I took the GRE at a Denver prometric location last October. And I was able to take items into the bathroom (as a woman, not being able to do that would be highly unusual and problematic).

I hope that now that you've done it once before you'll be less freaked out by the security procedures. Yes, they're watching you, but they're watching everyone in the test center, and for the most part, everything you're doing (that isn't looking at your quadratic formula underwear) is going to be really, really boring to whoever's tasked with watching the screens.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:33 AM on August 13, 2015

When I took the Bar exam, my seat was right in front of the restrooms. They had a proctor who would walk into the restroom occasionally when people were in there, so I assume it was to make sure 1) they heard bathroom noises coming from the stalls instead of electronic noises or notebook paper rustling and 2) that people weren't taking an inordinate/suspicious amount of time to do their business. Most people went in and out very quickly so they could get back to the test ASAP, so it seemed like a nonissue.
posted by gatorae at 7:51 AM on August 13, 2015

I can't speak to the GRE, but when the LSAT and Bar Exam are administered in my jurisdiction there are no cameras, in the bathroom or otherwise.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:51 AM on August 13, 2015

What could you do in the bathroom that you couldn't do in your car immediately before the test?

What they actually don't want you to do is go to the bathroom and call into your "Sure2Pass1stTime" employers and tell them the questions you just saw because you have a photographic memory.

These places have a basic interest in preventing test-takers cheating during the exams so they stay in business, but it's actually preventing you from photographing the screen or otherwise capturing the test information that they care about more, because if they let someone do that they will lose their license to administer that test (and probably others) immediately.

So try not to deliberately steal the test materials and you should be totally fine.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:05 AM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I work in a test center, although not Prometric. I was just getting ready to say a much-wordier version of what Lyn Never just said. You aren't being videoed in the bathroom for many reasons, but the big one is that it's very hard to steal the test materials in the bathroom. We obviously aren't supposed to allow cheating by individuals - but I suspect test companies are even more panicky about people who steal test content and sell it.

We do write reports when we suspect someone is stealing the test content, but we never find out what happens after that. We have also had test sponsors become suspicious of people for reasons that we could have never noticed, who pull the video tape for the test itself and interrogate us about how long the person was in the bathroom. I have an idea about what triggers those investigations, but I wouldn't be allowed to discuss it.

The answer to your question about hidden math formulas on your body: We wouldn't know if you'd written the quadratic equation on your ass, no.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:18 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

At least at the Prometric testing station I've been to, it's just one tenant in a fairly large office building, so the bathroom in the building isn't even really "theirs", and they'd have a hard time installing cameras if they wanted to. Even if they did, a significant portion of the people they had on their videos would not be test-takers, but just some other people working in the building.
posted by LionIndex at 11:17 AM on August 13, 2015

I have proctored licensing exams many times. There haven't been cameras in the bathrooms, but we were asked to make a note if someone visited the bathroom frequently or spent a long time in there.
posted by tacodave at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2015

I've done proctoring for tests, not the GRE, and there are not cameras in the bathrooms. I've also taught GRE classes, lots of them, and this is really not a technique we suggest. Way back in the day we would have teachers (who take the tests regularly just to stay on top of what is on them as Lyn explains) who would take scratch paper and write down all the vocab words they could remember while they were in the bathroom so this sort of shenanigan stuff is technically possible but unless you're taking the test for a job most people are not going to want to risk having their scores tossed out for cribbing of very dubious usefulness.

I've been to high security places (not testing centers) that had cameras outside the bathrooms so they could tell if you went in/out. They also have people who can step in to the bathrooms so they can tell if there is stuff left there, written on walls, etc. The big deal on the GRE is that almost all the formulas are stuff they give you, there are very few formulas you'd need to do well in the math section. As other people have said, you can usually only go between sections so it's not like you could look up something about a question you were actively working on.

Best technique: take practice tests in a timed fashion so you have a good idea of how you will do generally (and how hard you need to study, if you're testing about where you want to be, quit studying). Don't change up your game on test day. Don't drink too much caffeine. Have some exercise the night before so you're not all keyed up. Bake bread and think about something else for a good part of your days.
posted by jessamyn at 2:37 PM on August 13, 2015

Yeah, what LynNever and Coatlicue said - the security is partially to prevent cheating but the bigger reason is to prevent people from reporting the test contents to the various test-prep companies and others who would want to know it. This is a real thing. I worked for a test-prep company for awhile and they would send people to go take the tests and report back (from memory) about the contents.
posted by aka burlap at 5:59 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was just thinking during the bar exam how weird it is that you can bring your own tampons and pads. (You can go to the bathroom whenever.) Seems ridiculously easy to me to slide notes into a pad or into a tampon wrapper and reseal it. Then, even with a proctor in the bathroom, if you're carrying one of those they're expecting to hear rustling and assume it will take a little longer than a simple pee. Then you put whatever notes into the waste can and like hell they're gonna dig in there. I was really surprised reading through the prohibited items because I assumed they were going to say that pads or tampons would be in the bathroom if you needed them.
posted by good lorneing at 8:02 PM on August 13, 2015

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