I notice that, quite often, exams have a rule similar to this:

You may not leave the exam theater during the first ten minutes and last ten minutes of the exam.

I'm wondering what the purpose of this rule is. In the first ten minutes presumably nobody would have finished the exam, but I don't see why that should stop anyone from leaving. As for the last ten minutes, if I had to guess, it's to prevent an "arms race" where examinees race to leave before everyone else so they can avoid the traffic jam at the end of the exam. However this hardly seems like a deal-breaker. There're also exams where nobody can leave the exam theater until the exam is over, and usually the end of those exams aren't a complete mess: examinees just wait until scripts are collected and then leave. Besides, having this rule just pushes the "arms race" to ten minutes before the official end.

What is the point of this rule?

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    What do you mean by arms race? – user2768 Jun 28 '19 at 12:45
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    @user2768 in the sense that, if the traffic jam at the end of the exam is undesirable, then I have to leave before everyone else does. Of course everyone else knows that too, so they have to leave before I decide to leave, and then everyone starts leaving earlier and earlier - an "arms race". – Allure Jun 28 '19 at 13:28
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    "leave before everyone else so they can avoid the traffic jam at the end of the exam" - this can be generously generalized, as the very same behaviour (trying not to leave with the bulk at the end if possible) can be readily observed in places where the number of students who are there by car is negligible. – O. R. Mapper Jun 28 '19 at 19:54
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    @O.R.Mapper I think traffic jam is meant more metaphorically, as in the crowd of people who will all be leaving at once. Being at the back of that could mean waiting a brief time to exit. – Zach Lipton Jun 28 '19 at 23:44

Well the 10 minutes at the beginning is to allow some to arrive late without the possibility of collusion.

Where I work, it is 15 minutes at the beginning just for any who are late...

The 10 minutes at the end is probably to allow those rushing to finish a quieter time to concentrate - most students leaving manage to make noise - chairs scraping etc

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    "10 minutes at the beginning" makes sense, probably students are allowed to arrive 10 minutes late. – Quora Feans Jun 28 '19 at 11:30
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    In France that's as much as 30 minutes in universities. – m.raynal Jun 28 '19 at 12:49
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    In the UK (at least Bath) it is 30 minutes the beginning so students can arrive late and not have heard anything about the exam. The last 10 minutes is to allow quiet for the students who are in a panic at the end, yes. – Joanna Bryson Jun 28 '19 at 19:15
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    At my University I am allowed to let students in as long as nobody else left... Because of this we sometimes ask students not to leave a 3 hours exam before 30 minutes from the start. – Nick S Jun 29 '19 at 19:36

When you forbid students from leaving early, this is usually a trade-off between the total disturbance caused by leaving and the discomfort caused to the student. To summarise:


  • Without that rule, far more students would leave early, because the vast majority of students actually uses most of the time. Most of the students who leave in the last ten minutes without the rule leave because the few remaining minutes do not allow to reasonably start a new task or revise anything – not because they finished everything. These students would not want to leave earlier with the rule in place.

  • A single student can easily leave in an orderly, quiet fashion. Multiple students can’t. They are going to be in each other’s way, will accidentally talk to each other, etc. In the last ten minutes you are very likely to have such an accumulation.

  • In most exams I attended or proctored, we used the following rule: If you want to leave early, you raise your hand, a proctor collects your exam, and then you leave quietly (to reduce the disturbance). However, if you stay until the end, everybody stays at their desk and the proctors go round to collect the exams and then everybody is free to leave (because the number of proctors is limited, and to avoid last-minute cheating). Obviously this only works with a forced separation of the two phases.

  • In the beginning, you will have some people arriving late, whom you do not want to confuse with the people leaving very early.

  • The first ten minutes establish the behaviour for the rest of the exam. Therefore you want to avoid disturbances as much as possible. (Thanks to O.R. Mapper for pointing this out).)

  • In some systems, there are always some students who just take a look at the exam and then immediately leave due to being discouraged or because they just want to know the tasks. If the students at least have to wait for ten minutes, they usually have nothing better to do than to actually look at the exam, and thus get an idea of what the tasks are like, be it to better prepare for the repeat exam or to think twice before impulsively making a bad decision. If they still want to leave after that, there is probably no helping it anyway. Moreover, those who do leave tend to spread their departures a bit (unless you publicly announce that the ten minutes have passed).

  • If something is horribly wrong with the exam, there is a good chance that it will be found in the first ten minutes; the professor or proctors can then take immediate action. In some systems, it may be helpful to ensure that all participants are present for this, to avoid somebody complaining of unfairness later (“If I had known about the correction, I would not have left early.”).

So, to summarise, the ten-minute rule avoids of the trouble caused by early leavers, without causing too much discomfort to those having to wait.

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    Excellent visualization tools here. This should be regarded as a model answer. – goblin GONE Jun 28 '19 at 12:39
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    I don't get the red line on your graph - why does someone leaving at minute 5 cause a greater disturbance than someone leaving at minute 15? I'd say this rule could cause even more of a disturbance, since now everyone that would have left independently during minutes 1-10 gets up simultaneously at minute 11, which will be noisier than people leaving one-by-one. Several of the other points in this answer are valid, but I don't think the rule reduces overall disturbance in the early part of the exam. – Nuclear Hoagie Jun 28 '19 at 13:46
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    @NuclearWang: why does someone leaving at minute 5 cause a greater disturbance than someone leaving at minute 15? – Because this collides with late arrivers and other issues happening in the early minutes. However, you are right that it is not as bad as at the end (see my edit). — now everyone that would have left independently during minutes 1-10 gets up simultaneously at minute 11 – Not necessarily. Some of them may not leave at all, and the rest tends to spread out a bit (see my edit). Also, you do not have that many very early leavers in the first place. – Wrzlprmft Jun 28 '19 at 14:00
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    @NuclearWang: My impression is that during the first few minutes even a large exam room gets as quiet as hardly ever. When everyone has unpacked their writing utensils, shifted to a sufficiently comfortable position, opened their bottle and unwrapped their chewing gum and whatever other noisy steps of preparation some students seemingly think they need to take, even hundreds of students can be absolutely silent for a while. Then, this is the standard that is being set, and - consciously or not - people will try to adhere to subsequently. That is, someone leaving after 5 minutes, when ... – O. R. Mapper Jun 28 '19 at 19:51
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    ... the room has maybe not really reached calmness yet and there are multiple noise sources all over the room will instinctively take less care to produce as little sounds as possible themselves than someone who has just experienced the absolute silence for a few minutes that has established itself by the time 10 minutes have gone by. – O. R. Mapper Jun 28 '19 at 19:53

The 10 mins at the beginning is possibly to prevent cheating - an examinee sees the paper, leaves the room and phones it to friends who have arranged to arrive late. Or am I being cynical?

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    Closer to not cynical enough I'd say; Assuming the paper does not leave the room, little impedes pictures being sent through network while they are in the class even if it does take some remarkable sleight of hand to go unnoticed. – lucasgcb Jun 28 '19 at 12:46
  • Actually, leaving in the first 10 minutes can also result in cheating, depending on the question(s) and the possibility of returning. – Buffy Jun 28 '19 at 14:21
  • You're not being cynical, but the cheating mechanism is different from the one you hypothesized ;-) – Massimo Ortolano Jun 28 '19 at 17:38
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    My university has a policy of not allowing students to leave during the first half of an exam's time for exactly this reason, since students are allowed to show up late and begin the exam until then. – nick012000 Jun 29 '19 at 11:39

I find that having students leaving near the end

  • is disturbing to students trying to finish the exam
  • creates an environment where distractions make proctoring and monitoring for cheating difficult.

To add to the other answers: Students who finish the exam early enjoyed a quiet and disturbance-free room. The other students deserve to finish the exam under the same conditions.

  • I really like this succinct reasoning. – Az- Jun 29 '19 at 19:48

In general, start and end are crucial moments.

The beginning is when explanations are given and questions answered, papers distributed, seats assigned, presence taken.

Conversely, the end is where paper are collected, some anti-cheating mechanism might take place (e.g. leave the document on your desk).

You would like these moments to be quiet so that all tasks can be performed with ease.

  • I think the ten minutes without anyone leaving are the first ten minutes where all of what you describe is over. – O. R. Mapper Jun 28 '19 at 19:47

Where I work students are required to sit for at least one hour when taking a final exam (which cannot be less than 2hrs in length). Students cannot enter the exam room 30 minutes after the start of the examination. They also cannot leave in the last 15 minutes: if they are done within this last quarter hour, they must remain at their seat and examination copies. will be picked up while they are seated.

This serves multiple purposes.

First, it give the instructor/invigilators time to verify that the students sitting at the exam are actually students in the course, so that "phantom students" cannot leave the examination room with a copy of the final exam for whatever ulterior motives. It is not possible for one student to get an exam copy, leave the room immediately, and give the copy to another student before he/she enters the room.

Next, it avoids situations where a swarm of students "rush" the instructor or invigilator at the end of the exam period and makes it easier for the instructor or invigilator to verify that each student leaving the room has submitted an examination copy; it avoids increased noise levels in the examination room or adjacent corridors in the last minutes of the exam for those students needing concentration to finish their test.

Overall, my experience is that this policy has decreased the number of "blank copies": students show up and immediately give up. When you are forced to stay at least one hour, you are more likely to attempt some questions than just draw tanks rolling uphill.


So that they don't loose concentration, to avoid them using unorthodox means to pass the exam, Some may run away if the exam is complex

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