I read the final comments from the front page of the exam, wished them luck and the reading time silence began.
The papers all turn over at the same time and sound like a flock of startled pigeons scattering themselves at the prompting of the proximity of an unexpected predator.
They do not speak, but communicate in sniffles that say ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘I know how you feel’, with the occasional blowing of one’s nose to suggest that one might have it harder than the rest.
And when the reading time is up, an applause of clicking pens signals the end of the prologue and the beginning of the show. A particularly nervous student absentmindedly taps out a distress signal in Morse code as he writes out his essay plan.
The zipper on a pencil case lets out a cry and it purges its contents noisily onto the desk. In the other corner a pen is thrown down in exchange for a luckier one while a dictionary ruffles its pages like a hen her feathers when she is trying to find a synonym for vixen.
And above it all, the relentless drone of the air conditioning ensures that, under exam conditions, this is the noisiest room in the school.