For people who are in their fourth year of college or have been in Trinity for four years, they will have now studied under a total of three different exam structures; the most recent being exams after Christmas. This new exam structure was implemented after the coronavirus pandemic shut college down a number of weeks early last year and forced the majority of teaching and mentoring online. This also led to the introduction of online exams in the summer term and has now evolved into online exams after Christmas during the break. While for some this is a welcome relief as the pressures of assignments, unwatched lectures and too many hours spent on Netflix builds up, for others this is yet another one of Academic Registry’s solutions that don’t have the benefits of the student in mind.
The academic year of 2017/2018 was the last of many years in which exams from both the first and second semesters were held at the end of the academic year, usually in May. While this undoubtedly left a lot of time at Christmas to get involved with the dinners and society events which are typical of that time of year, there was an inordinate amount of pressure placed on the end of year exams as topics from Michaelmas Term were examined at the end of the second semester. The following year, Trinity changed to the model we are more familiar with now, that of exams at both Christmas and Summer, a much more balanced and equitable system where it avoids the Leaving Cert style scramble at the end of the year for exams.
“The Christmas break would have been a perfect opportunity to relax and unwind following a hectic semester but now, as exams are after Christmas, there will not be the possibility for this.”
While students were becoming adjusted to this, the pandemic hit, altering the lives of students to the point that they are almost unrecognisable. For the first semester, all lectures were online to avoid people going into college and all non-essential seminars and labs were also online. There was also a move by many of the schools within the college to have assessments focused more on continual assignments rather than on exams. Coupled with the fact that the majority of restaurants, bars and clubs were shut due to increased restrictions this meant there was more perceived pressure on students to study and attend lectures as there was quite literally nothing else to do.
A healthy balanced academic life also involves extracurricular activities and socialising; no one can sit at a desk every day of the week and expect to be sane by the end of it. As a result, the Christmas break would have been a perfect opportunity to relax and unwind following a hectic semester but now, as exams are after Christmas, there will not be the possibility for this. The potential for burn out early on in the academic year as students are understandably fed up with studying increases as exam timetables are also released.
“Having exams before Christmas would avoid this potential for burn out and allow people the chance to relax in front of the TV and focus on their mental health and physical health rather than sitting at a desk studying and stressing all day.”
Having exams before Christmas would avoid this potential for burnout and allow people the chance to relax in front of the TV and focus on their mental and physical health, rather than sitting at a desk studying and stressing all day. This potential for burnout will also be coupled with an undeniable sense of guilt as a number of people return home for the Christmas holidays to spend time with their families and friends while attempting to balance the pressure of studying. For many this will be the first time home during the academic year as the threat the coronavirus poses has prevented many from traveling home due to fear of spreading the virus. Many students will likely have planned to use this time as a break from academics, and with the constant pressure of exams hanging over them it would only be natural to feel even more stressed and worried. Christmas is meant to be a holiday and taking this away from students is just another way in which they have been disadvantaged due to the pandemic.
Normally at this time of year people’s social calendars are blocked solid as Christmas dinners, 12 Pubs and general nights out come in a steady stream of chaotic craic. This year, the lead-up to Christmas unfortunately is not the same. Instead of standing in a crowd in Front Square watching the Christmas tree light up, we were informed of it online. Christmas dinners are booked as separate tables of six and everyone should be home by 11; in short, it’s a dismal social scene, but at least there is one. For the last month and a half students have been confined to college or home by the restrictions. Now finally over Christmas there is a chance to socialise again except this time, due to exams these nights will be associated with guilt and stress as people are afraid of writing themselves off. It has reduced students’ capacity to socialise, something that is much-needed during this time.
“By preventing students from having the time to recuperate and socialise after a heavy first semester that was tainted by restrictions, there is a real risk of burnout and lack of motivation for students who are already under a lot of stress.”
While moving exams to Christmas was a necessary evil on behalf of the college as teaching was delayed at the start of the semester, more could have been done to facilitate students. Teaching could have been started a week earlier to compensate for this problem. By preventing students from having the time to recuperate and socialise after a heavy first semester that was tainted by restrictions, there is a real risk of burnout and lack of motivation for students who are already under a lot of stress.