Until this year, Trinity followed its own academic structure and calendar that differed to other universities and institutes in Ireland. For the majority of students, exams took place once a year at the end of the academic year before summer began, with a three week study period beforehand. Term breaks were also different with a later start than other universities in Ireland. The Trinity Education Project (TEP) was introduced in 2018.
“The core innovation brought in by TEP is the introduction of semesterisation.”
TEP is the name given to the new Academic Progression Regulations presented by College, starting from the academic year 2018/19. The core innovation brought in by TEP is the introduction of semesterisation; the fact that modules are now taught and then assessed in a single teaching block or semester. Thus, Christmas exams have become a necessity and with them, the need for continuous assessments, often compressed into a short period of time.
During previous years, students sat all their exams together at the end of the year, including the modules from both the first and second term. The purpose of TEP is to “facilitate the spread of different forms of assessment across the academic year, resulting in fewer students sitting a large number of exams at the end”. Therefore, instead of four weeks, students are given one week for revision, along with Reading Week, before exams. Under these new regulations, reassessment for failed modules for the first two terms will take place in August, before the next academic year. Moreover, special examinations will not be available and there will no longer be an option to repeat a year on an off-books basis. If a student fails the year, they cannot repeat the academic year more than once in order to pass, likewise they cannot sit two academic years at the same time.
“In theory, the new system enables students to have a longer summer break and to receive earlier feedback for their performances.”
In theory, the new system enables students to have a longer summer break and to receive earlier feedback for their performances, with the aim of encouraging more student mobility and exchange opportunities. Following its first term, in practice, the application of TEP seems to have forfeited its ideal goals on multiple occasions. Many students have been left disillusioned and dissatisfied by what could have been a great opportunity for improvement. Following the initial exam period, a group of students decided to make voice their concerns by writing a letter to Provost Patrick Prendergast. The letter, which has been circulated on social media, received 325 signatures. This has been an across-campus initiative, affecting students coming from a variety of courses. The letter reads: “Relative to those studying at other institutions, Trinity students must complete larger amounts of continuous assessment for fewer marks. So, although our workload during this year is greater, the main emphasis still remains on a final exam…Students across College must now complete continuous assessment, traditionally done over the winter break, in addition to their regular coursework – something not feasible while simultaneously preparing for important exams. Consequently, the new system promotes end of term cramming, contrary to the College’s aims of implementing a more integrated programme of learning.”
For students, the implementation of this system has resulted in a variety of complaints, with mounting deadlines and a requirement to submit multiple essays within a short period of time. The exam period should reduce the pressure long-term, not pushing assessment back to the end of the academic year, but instead many students felt the pressure of having to sit two or more exams on the same day. On the matter, an Engineering student, who did not want to be named, said: “Only one week of examinations meant that all the exams had to be closer to each other…For example, I had to sit my four exams in less than 48 hours. The exam schedule didn’t leave me any time to rest or revise for the next exam, since I, as most of the people sitting the exams, had to commute to the exam hall. Instead, last year, the exams were more spread out, thus I had more time to rest and prepare for them.”
“The concentration of a significant workload over such a small timeframe has led to students feeling burnt out and highly stressed.”
For some students TEP has, so far, not been a success, evident by the letter that circulated on social media. However, there are differences of opinion. A Pharmacy student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, remarked: “I think it really has helped to ease the workload for students in the science faculties. Last year we had finished modules at Christmas which we had to then forget about and re-learn in the summer. TEP has helped to stop this. Also, in the summer we had 10 exams last year so it was very tough to stay motivated.” She added: “TEP promotes learning throughout the year and helps reduce exam stress at the end of the year in my opinion.”
Overall, there are students who are for and against it. It is worth considering that sudden change is always likely to cause restlessness. The transition from an old system to a new one should be gradual rather than radical, especially when it comes to considering what is best for academic excellence. Students can only hope this year will serve as a trial run, where complaints will be heard and addressed in order to facilitate the constitution of a more favourable schedule for subsequent years.