Confronting futility during the scholarship season

Many are intimidated by the workload and prestige of Trinity’s scholarship exams. The first step towards success is managing expectations, both positive and negative.

InDepthWhen I asked my friends how they felt about Schols, I received a wide variety of answers, from a comparison between the tests and futility of Sisyphus’ effort to push his stone uphill, to an incomprehensible stream of expletives. In the weeks since exams, I’ve answered every “How did Schols go?” with a simple, “It went.” No matter what, though, there was one overarching theme present in everyone’s assessment: it sucked.

I myself took both of the business and politics papers, mostly just to try them. It doesn’t cost anything to take the Foundation Scholarship examinations, apart from your time, blood, sweat, and tears, and – to bust a myth I believed before plunging into the Schols pool – you just have to get an overall 70 in your four papers, with some extenuating technicalities about minimum scores in the 60s. Before I had thought that it was a competition and only a certain amount of the top scorers were awarded the scholarship. Now, achieving an overall 70 in four papers is certainly not easy, but eliminating the element of competition with your peers helps to make Schols less of a cut-throat money grab and instead lends it a more comradely air.

Rough start

I started off the week on a rough note, returning from my home in the States on the Saturday, with my first test that Monday. Despite the use of strategic coffee naps and brisk walks to keep myself awake, I hardly adjusted to the eight hour time difference during the week of Schols. Luckily, the presence of my Welsh roommate and her Chicagoan boyfriend, both suffering from jet lag (sympathy jet lag in her case), comforted me in my sleep-deprived state. There’s nothing quite like realizing at 6 am that you’ve all been up since 3 and then eating your roommate’s pancakes until you have to go to your test.

However, despite their pancake-making skills, your peers are not always your friends during Schols. Their darker side emerges when they begin spewing facts before exams, completing jumbling your mind and making you wonder what you’ve been doing for the past couple months while they have obviously familiarised themselves with every philosopher since Ancient Greece. Standing outside Politics Paper 1, I was chatting to a couple of my classmates who began to discuss Voltaire and Rousseau as if they were all old chums. The nonchalance with which they threw around the names of old, dead, white men was intimidating. However, once I sat down in the exam hall and saw the questions, I felt fine. Sure, I may not have been at my most Aristotelian, but I didn’t draw a complete blank. I chose to spend my free time watching Netflix rather than memorizing old tomes and I do not regret that decision.

Both my poor roommate and her boyfriend were taking the Maths exams. A friend of mine told me that apparently due to a previous plethora of Maths scholars, the department developed a new test that significantly more insidious. I can attest to the fact that my roommate, an erudite and dedicated student who spent far too much time in the library in the months leading up to Schols, came back from her exams each time fairly dejected and announced that she couldn’t even finish all of the questions. Luckily, her supportive parents told her to have a macaroon to wash away the bad taste of each test. I cannot stress enough how important treating yourself is during Schols. Your mind may be suffering, but your belly does not have to. Just buy yourself some Dominoes to ease anxiety between exams.


Her boyfriend, on the other end of the spectrum, hadn’t studied a lick and casually swaggered about the house in his ignorant bliss. From this anecdotal evidence, it could be generally surmised that hours of studying positively correlates with levels of Schols anxiety (despite the paradoxical nature of this statement). As someone who studied a medium amount with a fair dose of stress (exacerbated by my sleep deprivation), I can attest to this correlation. However, I don’t really feel up to making a graph to further verify it just yet. I need a break.

To relieve my exam stress, I continually found myself taking longer and longer study breaks during the week of Schols. While my roommate was hard at work practicing formulas and memorizing theorems, I started looking at dream houses online, because nothing gets you a dream home like putting off study that could help you earn a lucrative scholarship (for the record, my dream house is an adorable brick cottage in Sandymount). There’s just something so soothing about looking at an idyllic bungalow and being reminded that there is a life after Schols. Sandymount will still be there, even after Politics Paper 2.


Now despite my complaints, I must clarify, I wholly endorse taking on this challenge. Like I said, it’s completely free (financially that is; nothing in life is truly free). It also has no effect on your grade, and even gives you a head start in terms of end of the year study. I know plenty of people who didn’t expect to get Schols but used it as a chance to get some early revising done. If you’re a moderately capable student with a fair amount of motivation, you should definitely give it a try. As someone who is primarily motivated in life by where my next good meal is coming from, I can tell you that many dull hours studying in the library were driven by the thought of free soup and salmon. Just don’t be intimidated by others and, in always remember to treat yourself. Schols inevitably leads to mild panic and a few stressful tears, but allowing yourself some strategic junk food and having friends by your side makes it feel less like your brain is soon to implode.

We capped off our week of misery with a visit to the Pav. The place was brimming with students blowing off steam after the mental torture we had all just undergone. It was all going well until one of the guys brought back a pitcher that appeared to be leaking beer. “No, no, no, it’s not leaking!” one of my science friends said, “It’s just surface absorption. You see, atoms…” “Dude, stop,” another science student retorted. “It’s over.” That’s the best part of Schols. No matter how terrible it is taking the tests or how pointless all of your efforts seem, it’s all over eventually.

Photo: Natalie Duda