The end of Christmas exams is accompanied by a sense of relief for the majority of students. For those second-year students opting to take the Foundation Scholarship (Schols) exams, however, this marks the time when the stress truly begins to build.
Traditionally, the exams are held in person, on campus. Last year marked an exception, seeing them held online due to the risk from coronavirus. This year, despite the vast majority of other college exams having again transitioned completely or partially online due to continuing coronavirus concerns, Schols is still set to take place in person.
This year’s candidates include those who were due to sit the leaving certificate in 2020, but never actually sat the exams in June due to lockdown. Many candidates have not had an in-person, handwritten exam since their mocks, and are now facing one of the most intimidating exam sessions of their lives, and their worries span much further than just the exams themselves.
I am one of these students. My last in-person exam was my chemistry mock exam in sixth year, and, while the memories I hold of my mocks are hazy, I’m not sure they were of much help in preparing for Schols. My idea of sitting an exam still looks like sitting at a wonky desk in the school gym with my lab book and pencil case in front of me, listening to my peers knock under the tables to aggravate the supervising teachers. Despite the three semesters of college I have completed, college exams still seem like the scary and grown-up concept they did when I was filling out my CAO application.
Many Schols candidates have not had an in-person, handwritten exam since their mocks
The primary reason that students choose to take Schols is the benefits it offers for those who succeed – up to five years of paid accommodation, free evening meals at Commons, a waiver of their fees or student contribution and the prestigious title of Scholar. As one can imagine, with such incredible benefits to gain, the exams come laden with pressure. This year, however, the stress is being fired from multiple angles as students taking the exams are confronting different and more difficult conditions than those who have gone before them.
As a joint-honours student, I attended three information meetings about the exams – two that focused on each of my subjects respectively as well as a general overview. In each meeting, the question of whether the exams would be in person or not was brought up, and each meeting produced a different answer.
While one assured us that the traditional in-person aspect of the exams was planned to be upheld, another told us to assume that the exams will once again be held online, and another answered plainly that they really did not know. As news gradually came trickling in of nearly all other exams being moved online due to coronavirus concerns, the publishing of the in-person exam schedule came as a surprise to many students, followed by confused and disappointed discussions in Schols group chats.
For a large chunk of students attempting the 2022 Schols exams, this will be our first in-person exam since beginning college. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s Fit2Sit Instagram campaign is helpful, but it couldn’t possibly fill in the gaps that only experience can. The only departmental advice I have received, apart from radio silence, is to “practice writing with pen and paper” – something that not only seems like a poor replacement for a properly simulated, high-pressure exam scenario but one that reads as insensitive to the extent of our inexperience.
The only departmental advice I have received, apart from radio silence, is to ‘practice writing with pen and paper
The college exams I am familiar with are online ones that are timed, typed and submitted via Blackboard. Somehow, I think a set of exams with the power to change the course of our financial and academic futures may not be the best introduction to a completely new assessment setting.
Uncertainty and last-minute changes are part and parcel of college life for the current crop of second years. My intention is not to criticise these last-minute changes – they’re often unavoidable in a pandemic – but rather to make a point of how the constant uncertainty has incurred significant strain upon our college experience. The possibility that the scholarship exams may follow this trend further builds upon this already heightened exam anxiety. However, even a last-minute change to online exams may still be for the better.
Without the transition online, other worries linger, such as the unclear contingency plans for a candidate who’s tested positive before their exams, or the worry that in-person exams may be an unnecessary risk for students, particularly those with underlying health conditions or general anxieties about contracting the virus.
Our worries ahead of the Schols exams should relate to the exams themselves and not the dangerous and intimidating conditions they may be held in
When in-person exams could not go ahead last year, the Schols exams were adapted and held online. Re-enacting this decision for 2022 would offer relief and alleviate stress for students. However, it seems that despite students’ concerns, Trinity will insist on the exams being held in-person, until they are simply forced to do otherwise. I believe it would make much more sense to relieve students of unnecessary stress and enable them to focus solely on their exam performance. It seems from the abhorrent handling of this situation that for Trinity, tradition comes before safety and student wellbeing.
Our worries ahead of the Schols exams should relate to the exams themselves and not the dangerous and intimidating conditions they may be held in. However, we are now forced to struggle with fears of being disadvantaged by change and inexperience. With more factors than ever coming into play for this year’s potential scholars, the exams themselves are not all we are being tested with.