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Stephen Maurer '67

Maurer is a professor of mathematics and chair of the mathematics and statistics department at Swarthmore. His expertise is discrete mathematics and algorithms. He has always been interested in the interface between secondary and collegiate mathematics and has worked extensively over the years in curriculum development and enrichment activities.
I am one of the few who has participated in honors three ways: as a student, as an examiner, and as a faculty member. I was an examiner twice - in 1976 and 1978, (I think!) - before joining the faculty in 1979. A long time ago! 

Still, my memories from back then help me guide students and visiting examiners through the process today. I tell students that the most valuable part of the process for them will be the comprehensive review, because it certainly was for me. (Of course, in those days, you were reviewing eight seminars in three disciplines, so maybe the review now is only half good.) 

I also tell students that the examiners are not trying to trip them up but rather trying to understand how they think, so that should be foremost in their minds: "Especially in orals," I say, "outline your argument first, and then start filling in until you are told 'That's enough.' Also, admit readily when you don't understand something; don't try to hide it or try to avoid answering questions." This advice is based on having been an outside examiner and seen what some students did poorly. 

Finally, I remind examiners that students will be daunted (a.k.a., scared) in the oral because you can ask them anything. So put the students at ease, I suggest, by letting them pick the first thing to discuss. "Once they are at ease," I explain, "you will be able to find out what they know." I can say this both based on my experience as a student and because I tried just that as an examiner, with success. Most of all, I can tell students: "You will survive; see, I'm still here."