Complaints lodged by students as Schols exams plagued by errors

A number of logistical and administrative errors caused significant chaos and confusion at a Scholarship (Schols) examination this morning, resulting in complaints lodged to Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officers and various College bodies.

Schols exams for English, Engineering and Medicine students, as well as Christmas exams for Computer Science students, were scheduled to begin at 9:30am this morning in Goldsmith Hall, but were delayed by 20 minutes. Prior to allowing students to enter the examination hall, a member of the security team told students that there was no list of seating arrangements and that seating would be allocated on a “first come, first served basis” due to a shortage of available seats.

According to a number of students who spoke to Trinity News after the examination, this caused chaos in the exam centre as students rushed to find a seat. Lorna Mooney, a Medicine student, described a scene of “blind panic,” as students were “pushing to get in as quickly as possible, taking seats as quickly as possible”.

There were also a number of mistakes in the Schols exam papers. The English Literature Paper One was incorrectly labelled as Paper Two. Sinead Barry, an English Literature and Philosophy student said that this lead students to believe that “they would have to take an exam due another day, causing further panic”. Mooney noted that there were also mistakes on the Medicine examination paper, when the paper had the name of a different lecturer on it. Mooney said that this “caused stress among all of us medical students because different lecturers like different things in their answers and we had prepared for the one who had told us he would be marking”.

In addition, as soon as the examinations began at the later start time, they were disrupted, as the Engineering Schols exam was missing several questions from the paper. Barry said: “Actions taken to fix this problem were hugely distracting to students even sitting a different paper.” Barry continued: “The invigilator then made a phone call during the exam to amend the disaster. She did not step out of the hall to do this nor make any obvious attempt to lower her voice, further disturbing students attempting to sit arguably the most difficult exam of their lives, or at least the one with the most at stake.”

Roisin Doyle-Bakare, an English Literature and Philosophy student, was left without a seat or paper before the exam was to begin. Doyle-Bakare sent an email of complaint to the English department, noting: “When I inquired about this I was given dismissive responses that implied that there was no paper or seat for me and that I would not be able to sit the exam, and was simply told to look again.” In her correspondence, Doyle-Bakare also noted that students “were continuously given various fear-mongering ultimatums by the invigilator of the exam such as ‘if you don’t sit down and be quiet immediately you will not sit the exam’”.

Doyle-Bakare continued: “I was then told to stand at the back of the hall whilst noticeably distressed before I was given a paper, but no seat,” she said, adding that she was “extremely distressed and crying a lot”.

Following the exam, many students were angry and upset. Echoing sentiments expressed by other students, Doyle-Bakare said that once she started the exam she was still “in a state of panic” and that it took “some time and considerable effort to actually be able to concentrate, forcing me to answer to a far lower quality than I am capable of. I am still distressed and upset which has not only completely sabotaged the paper I just sat but has now set me back in studying properly for another exam I have tomorrow morning.”

Mooney told Trinity News that she felt that the exam was “an absolute disgrace to be honest, for such a serious exam with so much at stake, it was so poorly organised”. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one student who took the English Literature exam described the experience as a “mess”. Another English Literature student said that the experience was “stressful and disorientating” and was “definitely the worst organised exam I’ve ever been to,” although added that “the invigilators did recover well”.

An Engineering student spoke anonymously to Trinity News: “I just wish invigilators and staff been a bit more polite and respectful. It was a pretty tough morning and I felt like I was treated like a badly behaved child with a bad teacher instead of an adult and academic. I get that mistakes happen but the fact that no one checked our paper and no one apologised or explained the delay and I was sitting in one seat for 3 hours and 40 minutes. By the time everything was sorted I was miserable.”

TCDSU Education Officer Alice MacPherson confirmed this evening that she had received a number of complaints from students about the issues, saying: “I’ll be following up with the relevant College authorities tomorrow. I’m also here to support any individuals who were distressed by their experience and would encourage them to get in touch.”

MacPherson continued: “It seems to me that there has been a lack of preparation and organisation. College should ensure all exams are an environment conducive to academic success. I would also like to see invigilators, many of whom are also students, better equipped to deal with issues as they arise and in a manner that causes the least disruption possible.”

TCDSU Welfare Officer Damian McClean also commented on the students’ wellbeing: “Exams, especially Schols, can be a very stressful experience. Years of studying is assessed in a three hour period. This can lead to high levels of anxiety and stress during both the exam and outside the exam venue. Myself, along with support services within the College are available to any students in distress during the exam period.”

The Schols examinations occur each January, where Senior Fresh students take “searching” examinations based on their subject of study, with material not based on standard module material often assessed. Students who achieve an overall first in these examinations receive free accommodation, food and tuition fees for five years.

College did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Additional reporting by Niamh Lynch, Aisling Grace and Sinéad Barry. 

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.