After months of preparation, the waiting is over for several second year students as they start to sit the annual scholar exams.
For many, the exams began yesterday morning with the majority of students sitting their first paper. Overall, all students partaking will sit either three or four exams depending on their subject, which will last in total between seven to nine hours.
Some subject’s exams are well underway however. Jessica Foley, general science, recounted her initial impression when entering the drawing office at the top of the museum building to sit her first exam last Friday: “you could see the main invigilator getting anxious about the number of empty seats, worried people had gotten lost somewhere between all the flights of stairs. Then, just before two, she realised – ‘Oh – this is Schols? So I guess the others just chose Christmas instead?’ Thought I’d be starting Schols weeping rather than laughing, so that was a nice surprise.”
Feelings about the week varied between different potential scholars. Asheigh Currid, MSISS, told Trinity news: “they’re just like summer exams with less people and a lot more laid back.” Other descriptions, such as Daire Brady’s, who studies nano-science, emphasised the high level of pressure: “if you don’t have nightmares of missing your exam, you’re not working hard enough.” Some were just relieved that it had finally begun, like medicine student Karen McMahon, who said: “after so much preparation, it’s great to get them started.”
With the large amount of benefits offered to students who manage to get a first in a majority of their papers as well over sixty-five per cent in all of them, it is understandable that some are feeling the pressure. Successful potential scholars will be given free accommodation by Trinity for the rest of their period studying here. They will also see their contribution fees wavered, get free daily dinner in the common room, and will receive 250 euro before Christmas each year. Other benefits, which one scholar described to us as “de facto” rather than “de jure”, include an annual scholar’s ball and a trip to either St John’s College in Cambridge or Oriel College in Oxford.
The pressure involved causes students every year to drop out of the race before the exams. Conor Reddy, studying science, told Trinity News: “I gave up on Schols about a week before the Christmas break! I got sick at the end of November and missed quite a bit of college afterwards. At that stage it was just too much of a mountain to climb so I gave it up, rather than spending the break working hard and risking burn out coming into second semester!”
However, like many others, Reddy does not regret his decision: “the rewards that scholars get are life changing for sure… but they are only given to the select few who are elected as scholars; it’s an all-or-none exam. That’s what made my decision in the end, I felt that no matter how prepared I was there was always the chance of a curve-ball on one paper that would see me miss out and then my hard work would be for nothing. I can’t imagine anything more crushing than missing out like that!”
He further said that if there was some sort of recognition given to those “that miss out on schols but still do well” the exams would be a lot more popular than they currently are.
Amy Worrel, current scholar and secretary of the scholars committee, spoke to Trinity News about changes to the annual examination week over the last few years: “there’s been a move to make the Foundation Scholarship examinations more consistent across courses, Schools and Faculties in recent years.”
Two additions that have been added to the exam week since last year are the requirement that students get a minimum of 65 per cent in every exam to qualify as a scholar and that a minimum of 25 per cent of the examination examines general curriculum. According to Amy, the general section “means different, rotating off-curriculum topics and fields of research that push the Foundation Scholarship candidate to research and study curriculum related to their course that will not have been covered explicitly in their modules so far.” Both these changes were already present in several subjects; however they are now universal requirements for those sitting any of the subjects.
“The beauty about the Foundation Scholarship examination,” Worrel says, “is that it’s more of a searching exam. It’s looking to challenge you to see if you can deliver the goods and deliver them with an extra flair.” She advises those attempting the exams this week to remember that “you are only competing against yourself so keep your head screwed on, try to minimize any anxiety and stress and just give it your best shot for the week. After all you have nothing to lose and all to gain – you’ve already lost the time you’re investing in the exams so stick with it.”
Additional reporting by Lia Flattery and Una Harty. Illustration by Natalie Duda