09 May 2021

Welsh exam done by voice

Everything becomes more difficult if you can't use your hands. And when it comes to computer work, that holds especially if you're not doing that work in English. I had had loads of trouble with the Welsh dictation software, but even with that software working, I was quite crippled. If you are lucky and you articulate well, the software can get some six words out of ten correct. And then you are left to correct the rest in software that doesn't speak Welsh. That is a complete faff! So I was looking towards my upcoming Welsh exam a little bit of trepidation. I figured I would be okay on the Welsh. But would I be okay on the technology?

The weekend before the exam I tried out the software. It wants to check lots of things, and you can see if it all works under a false name. The software wants to check whether it is compatible with your operating system, with your microphone, and with your camera, and it wants to know if it can detect your face. And you need to do a room check. These exams are done at home, and everyone gets a remote invigilator, and these invigilators want to see your room, to see if you are not hiding any fluent Welsh speakers under your desk, or something. So I logged in under some generic name and managed the checks.

When the actual day came I was ready at my desk at 3:30. My exam would start at four, and from half an hour in advance onwards I could do these checks, now under my own name. So I went through the whole rigmarole. And then I got a screen that said my checks were being verified. And that screen stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there. Would these checks actually be performed before the exam will officially start? Luckily, with only a few minutes to go, a message appeared, saying that if the text would not be complete by four, they would be performed in the background, and I could start on the actual exam. I wish they would have displayed that from the start! That would have saved me some worries.

The verification window that made me nervous

Another problem was that suddenly, the letter "D" didn't work anymore on my keyboard. No time to deal with that! As I don't normally type anyway, that seemed not such a big problem, but of course as my voice recognition software doesn't understand Welsh, it could prove annoying. But what can one do! We weren't allowed to login earlier then half an hour in advance, and if I would do the normal things you do to remediate problems, such as switching it off and on again, I would probably have to do the whole logging in process again, with these annoying checks. I left it as it was.

I started. The first part was to correct a text with purposeful mistakes in. I wanted to be fast with this, as I knew I would need lots of times with actual writing exercises. I did what I could, and then moved on.

The next part was to summarise an English text in Welsh. I was okay with that! You were not allowed to use many words, but as writing for me takes so long, that was okay for me. But even here, a complication arose. When I was sort of done, the software suddenly told me the exam was suspended. The screen froze and I couldn't do anything. I still had 41 minutes left! What was going on? I quickly emailed my invigilator. And after some type minutes, I was back. I now had two clocks ticking back the time. One that was still ticking back from 41 minutes; the other one hadn't stopped and was at some 35 minutes. I figured I should have the full 41 minutes.

The disconcerting message that my exam was suspended

I started on the free writing exercise. I had to support my employer in their imaginary application for the prize of "employer of the year". Yeah right! I decided to use it to vent some of my frustrations. I wrote about how fantastic the School was with regards to gender equality and ethnic diversity. If only! But I didn't get far. My Internet dropped. It only dropped for a short while, but I have to do the whole set of checks again. That also involved a pass code that I didn't have at hand as I didn't think I would need it after the initial login. I didn't keep my email open. That might not be in line with exam conditions! So that was more stress.

By the time I was back, time was short, and I decided I couldn't wait for my voice recognition software. I switched to typing as it is faster. But it wasn't very fast; I couldn't type a "D". Every time I accidentally did, the voice recognition software opened a dictation box. It's not supposed to do that! The actual shortcut for that is Ctrl+Shift+D. But it had a weird mood and now all it took was a d! That was really disruptive. In hindsight, I probably should have closed the entire voice recognition software. But I was under stress and didn't think of it. And then suddenly time was up. I had not been given the full 41 minutes! And everything that is not in the exam screen is lost then. And I was typing in Word. So some of it was lost. I only had some 63 words in a 300 words exercise! So there clearly was not good enough. Oh well.

I emailed my invigilator to say I had run out of time. I suppose I will have to try again next year! And for now, I was glad to close down the computer and go downstairs for dinner. I was tired, and my arms hurt after all that typing.

A few days later I bumped into the lady from Canolfan Bedwyr, who had helped me prepare for all this. I told her of my issues. And she said there had been lots of technical problems all over the country. She said there would be another try in early autumn for people who hadn't been able to do the exam now for such reasons. She didn't know if I would qualify as a person with technical problems. I would like to say I am! The RSI is not their fault, and neither is the faulty shortcut key, but the fact that my exam was halted for several minutes is maybe not their fault either, but it is their responsibility. So I would like to make my case. But we will see. If not, I can try again next spring. By then I surely hope I have functional arms again, and can just vibe the whole thing without having pain in my arms for days after.

I expect to hear I have failed soon, and that might be as well the moment to discuss a second chance in a few months' time. I have never failed the Welsh exam before! And I think I wouldn't have, if my arms would have worked. But that is life I suppose. No one said it was going to be fair!

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