Head2Head: Should Trinity introduce Christmas exams?

Fiachra MacCanna and Niall Maher argue the cases for and against the introduction of Christmas exams
Illustration: Isabelle Griffin

Illustration: Isabelle Griffin

COMMENT

Fiachra MacCanna – Yes

“When we split the year in half, we are examined on what has just been covered in the last semester, and, thus,study rotas are easier to manage, and stress is somewhat relieved”

 

When exams seem so far away they may as well not be there at all, it is all too easy to forget that we actually have them. In the past three months I have not seen enough of the Trinity libraries, and I know I am not the only one. Increasingly, colleges are switching to a semester-based system, where the academic year is split into two semesters.

 

Modules are taught alongside continuous assessment in two semesters with exams at Christmas or in January and in summer. Trinity College, however, has retained its traditional method of leaving exams until the end of the year. However, dividing the year into two halves would definitely have a great deal of merit.

 

Monitoring Progress

Christmas exams in college, just like those in secondary school (the dreaded mocks before our Leaving and Junior Cert, and those spelling tests we had each week since the start of primary school) can be a way to check your progress. You could go to all your lectures, take notes, and go through the all the slides at home afterwards, but sometimes it is hard to know how well you are doing and if what you are doing is, in fact, working. With the long time between our annual set of exams, sometimes you need that reassurance that your work is going well, and sometimes you need to find out that you should be doing something different. Exams at Christmas would help make you aware of your weaknesses and where more effort is needed, before it is too late.

 

“Exams at Christmas would help make you aware of your weaknesses and where more effort is needed, before it is too late”

 

Too much burden

We can all agree, I am sure, that exams are a burden, so it probably sounds insane to say that more exams would create a lesser weight on students, but bear in mind, we would still have the same number of exams just split in two. In the few weeks of study break, you are expected to revise everything you have covered since September. Some of these topics, you may not even remember learning in the first place, and have completely forgotten about since. Having exams on all  twelve or thirteen modules of the past year at once is simply too much.

 

Some students, for instance, find it difficult multitasking; all that revision makes it hard to ensure each module gets as much time and effort as the others and as it needs. Failing one module means repeats, and, for third and fourth year students, means failing the whole year. All this stress and anxiety at once can undeniably be overwhelming. When we split the year in half, we are examined on what has just been covered in the last semester, and, thus,study rotas are easier to manage, and stress is somewhat relieved.

 

Christmas “Break”

Christmas is a time to enjoy, relax, and forget about college and work for a few days, but assignments can prevent us from doing that. I could not help but spend that time around Christmas worrying about those 1500 word essays I had to do, or all the work I had to catch up on. It is harder to book family holidays and ski trips knowing you will have work to do at this time. When the Christmas exams were over in secondary school, Christmas time began for me. I didn’t have to worry about anything else. The stress of exams over the few weeks beforehand dissipating at once was an added bonus.

 

Repeats

Summer holidays are four months off. Students every year have great things planned before they finish. People go inter-railing, on J1’s, get summer jobs, along with a whole load of other things. Obviously, nobody wants their summer plans cut short by an email telling them have repeats they have to study for. It can be horrible. It is not until freshers’ week before you find out how you did on the repeat and whether you passed or if you are going to have to repeat a year. Nobody wants this.

 

In sum, if the exam was in Christmas, you could do the repeat during the next semester, or at summer with the rest of your exams. You will only be at risk of having to repeat during summer with half of your exams.


Niall Maher – No

 

“Professor Patrick Geoghegan, former Dean of Undergraduate Studies, has pointed out that the implementation of Christmas exams would lead to students feeling under constant pressure to study”

 

If you’re anything like me, your Christmas break was bliss: constant gluttony, no real work done and no sleep schedule. It felt bad, but at the same time, so good to take a few weeks to relax after the hectic pacing of the Michaelmas term. Yet this carefree existence is a privilege granted to only this university. Trinity is an exception when it comes to Irish universities for not having exams either before or after Christmas. This is a decision I fully support, because it allows us students to take a less exam-focused, holistic approach to education, and ensures that our stress levels are not overloaded.

 

One of the largest benefits of the absence of Christmas exams is that we now have to worry about major exams only once a year. In an alternative system, we would have two periods of extended revision and we would twice have to go through that miserable cycle of exam season; denial, procrastination and desperation. Instead we now have to cram just once a year and we have the rest of the time off to allow us to pursue our interests . While I acknowledge that having one set of exams does make the summer exams more stressful than if there were two sets, I fail to see how this outweighs the benefits of only having to cram for one set of exams.

 

The largest benefit is that now we are stressed for a much shorter period of time. Professor Patrick Geoghegan, former Dean of Undergraduate Studies, has pointed out that the implementation of Christmas exams would lead to students feeling under constant pressure to study. Without Christmas exams, there is only one period of the year in which we will be under the pressure of exams, which is attractive to all students. We are allowed to throw ourselves fully into the campus lifestyle in the Michaelmas term without the stress of exams which we should be studying for hanging over our heads.

 

 

Larger extracurricular involvement

 

“In Michaelmas term, students can commit to a huge workload without worrying too much about the impact on their academics. This is a driving force behind our vibrant society scene, allowing them to develop uninterrupted”

 

Trinity has arguably the best society life on campus and that is helped by our not having exams right in the middle of the academic year. In Michaelmas term, students can commit to a huge workload without worrying too much about the impact on their academics. This is a driving force behind our vibrant society scene, allowing them to develop uninterrupted. Our societies would not benefit from the start-stop progress caused by Christmas exams. Projects that need constant attention would have to be put on hold at the risk of putting grades into jeopardy. The same can be said of sport: with Christmas exams, there would now be two periods where people must chose to neglect either their sport or studies. A system without Christmas exams gives you choice: the choice to spend your college experience the way you want and not to be shackled in by exams midway through every year.

 

The increase in choice is one of the most important aspects of university life and one we should be wary of restricting by imposing examinations in the middle of the academic year. Without Christmas exams we have much more freedom than other universities. You are free to pursue studies outside the range of essay titles, free to move from nightclub to nightclub all night. You are, of course, free to neglect all your lectures and tutorials, a decision you may begin to regret come April. Without Christmas exams, those mistakes you make, the decisions not to go to the lecture because you “don’t like the lecturer’s voice”, won’t be permanently recorded on your GPA or prevent you from going on Erasmus next year. I know many first years who, from difficulties fitting into the college lifestyle, had an academically miserable Michaelmas term. Forcing them to do Christmas exams would have made things much worse.

 

A less punitive approach

 

“Going into summer exams knowing that you’ve already lost up to 50% would be a daunting prospect”

It’s true that there are difficulties with only having summer exams: for instance, if you are ill or suffering from the bereavement of a loved one during the exams it will affect your performance. But with the inclusion of Christmas exams you double the chance of that occurring. Going into summer exams knowing that you’ve already lost up to 50% would be a daunting prospect. It must also be remembered that this is not the Leaving Cert. There are supplemental examinations you can take, should you be unfortunate enough to mess up your summer exams. Studying for summer exams is miserable but not as miserable as studying for them and also having to study again at Christmas.

 

A college experience without Christmas exams is a freer college experience: an experience where you go to choose your own achievements and mistakes. It is a much happier college experience. You don’t have to go through periods of intense cramming every 6 months. You can enjoy your Christmas break or Michaelmas term at your discretion. If you are still harbouring any doubts about not having Christmas exams, you should talk to any student who who has done Schols. They can tell you, with much more passion than I can, just how enjoyable and stress-free having two sets of exams a year is.

 

 

Editors





Niamh Lynch
news@trinitynews.ie
Kelly McGlynn
features@trinitynews.ie
Michael Foley
comment@trinitynews.ie
Katarzyna Siewierska
scitech@trinitynews.ie
Clare McCarthy
sport@trinitynews.ie

Illustration

Aisling Crabbe
Natalia Duda
Sarah Morel
Mike Dolan
John Tierney
Naoise Dolan
Sarah Larragy
Mubbashir Ali Sultan
Nadia Bertaud
Daniel Tatlow

Photography

Kevin O'Rourke
Ines Niarchos
Huda Awan