Students send open letter calling for Schols to take place online

59 students so far are asking the Senior Lecturer asking for clarity on this year’s exam format

A group of students have published an open letter calling for the Scholarship exams (Schols) to take place online next January.

59 students in total have signed the open letter addressed to the Senior Lecturer and Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Professor David Shepherd. They are seeking clarity on the format Schols will take this year and calling for the exams to be held online.

Along with the open letter, the students have launched a petition gathering testimonies from others as to why they believe Schols should take place online.

Trinity News spoke to the creator of the petition Frank Wolfe, who is a second-year PPES student. He believes that it is “very unreasonable to expect students who are sitting Schols this year to take in-person exams,” because “their education in Trinity has in no way prepared them to perform in in-person exams”.

He notes that although previous exams taking place online “had to happen because of the pandemic” he “personally would be terrified at the prospect of sitting an in-person exam” and thinks that he “speaks for a lot of people in saying that”.

“There are also some serious inclusivity issues, where for example if somebody got Covid, they would have a social and ethical responsibility to not come in and sit their exams.” He believes that this “puts students in a really really difficult position and could be very very stressful”.

“There isn’t any evidence that written exams are a better way of assessing social sciences than typed exams or even that exams should be a way of assessing social sciences or arts and humanities subjects in general at all, but that’s a conversation for another time.”

Wolfe added that he believes there is a “unanimous feeling” among students that Schols should have an online option, and “even students who would prefer to do the exam in-person said there should be hybrid provisions for students who feel they need to do the exam online”.

Wolfe said that the group has gotten “some support from [Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union]” on the issue but is “waiting to hear more from them”. He said he’s “feeling very optimistic that the Senior Lecturer and the Schols Executive Board are going to listen”.

“If that is not the case then we are also optimistic that we can get student union support and they can help us fight this fight.”

The letter explains that “at the time of writing, we do not know whether the Scholarship exams are to take place online/digitally or in person this year”.

They want to “convey [their] sincere hope firstly that this will be finalised and communicated to [them] as soon as possible”. However they are also asking that “the exams will take place online/digitally – at least for AHSS students”. They believe that they “likely represent a large majority of the student body with this view”.

They have outlined several reasons for this in the letter. Firstly “there is a broad consensus among students and various lecturers that take-home exams represent a no worse means [sic] of assessing those subjects compared to in-person, handwritten exams, and that there is no pedagogical advantage associated with them”.

“Many in fact believe that take-home exams may indeed be better, as they do not also place a huge and unnecessary premium on endurance, handwriting speed, memorisation etc.”

Secondly “there is no indication from the Scholarship exams last year that their being online did any damage to their integrity, or to the rigour and meritocratic competition associated with them”.

They also explain that “for most students (in particular [arts, humanities and social science] students]), the Scholarship Exams, if they were in-person and handwritten, will be the first exams of that nature that they will have done since their Leaving Certificate mock exams”.

The group believes that the “nature of their education in Trinity up to this point (although necessary due to Covid-19) has in no way prepared them” for in person Schols exams.

“This places an unfair burden on these students who are facing unquestionably the most important exams of their lives to date.”

They believe that “due to the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of the Covid crisis, ensuing lockdowns, and subsequent logistical challenges the possibility that in-person events would have to be changed to being online at short notice is a constant shadow on the horizon”

“Committing soon to having the Scholarship exams online offers a stronger guarantee that there would be no last-minute changes to the arrangements in place for Schols”.

Speaking to Trinity News, second-year student and supporter of the petition Jay Purdue said he believes “Schols should be online or open-book, especially for social sciences and humanities, because if you are just learning off essays, it’s not really testing your knowledge of the concepts”.

Schols being online would “allow people’s work to be as good as it can possibly be, irrespective of how good their memory is”.

The signatories of the letter conclude by saying that holding Schols in online would “take an enormous, anxiety-inducing burden off the shoulders of the dedicated students who are committed to attempting the exams”.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.