The supplemental exam experience this year has been an overly stressful ordeal for students, for factors as unnecessary as they were unprecedented

Isolation from college over the summer, notable lack of college support, and the pressure of perceived high stakes of supplemental exams is a much larger problem than expected, and a significant disadvantage

In August of this year I was one of the hundreds of students who sat a supplemental exam. As with any exam preparation process, stress followed me from my term results all the way to the exam day itself. However, I found that preparing specifically for my supplemental exam was not only a different type of stress than a normal term-time exam, but taxing in a way I had not entirely expected and had never experienced before.

In a way, this should have been the exam I was most confident about. From sitting the same paper last May I knew exactly what to expect, and what I needed to work on in order to succeed this time around. Though working, I had much more time over summer; two full months focusing on only one exam rather than the significantly higher number of assessments over the exam period. I knew at this stage what I had to study, and time to get through the work too. Despite this being majorly positive, the reality of supplemental exam preparation was exceptionally nerve-racking.

The factors I had anticipated were none out of the ordinary. Support offered from College was minimal, and multiple panicked emails had to be sent to find out the date of my exam mere weeks before it. For this module in particular, no information could be found on BlackBoard about the exam, and the date and location were not updated on my my.tcd portal until two weeks before, leaving an already worrying student in the dark about how much time she had left. On a wider scale of College communication, we were sent a general good luck email with a Dominos discount code, just a few days before the exam week commenced, but otherwise faced radio silence. Goodie bags were to be handed out at the exam, and ended up being a lollipop, or mini candy hearts in my case, and were maybe a support that came too little too late. Initially I would have assumed that this would be the biggest critique of the supplemental process: the lack of support provided to students by the college. However, this summary of the scarce active support for resit students was only a snippet of a wider element of the process, one specific to supplemental and deferral exams. Of course, College could have done more, but I’m sceptical of what would’ve helped effectively over distant emails.

“Knowing you are prepared is one thing but the consequences of failing to prepare properly topped up my fears no matter how many quizlets I passed or mock tests I did well in.”

The feeling of isolation from college over the summer was something I had not first considered, but which turned out to be a key element of my experience, and an overwhelmingly negative one. Slow email responses were certainly an obstacle in my preparation, but for once were understandably so as lecturers are on their holidays, taking annual leave or otherwise engaged. Not having access to the College campus being at home all summer left me mourning the rainy study days in the library, or managing stress in the gym after a long day of revision. As well as not being able to use the facilities themselves, a deep feeling of detachment from College was a surprisingly big set-back. It’s not so much that I missed campus or the facilities themselves, but that while I was stuck with the stressful study side of college, the positive, fun side of College life had left me for the summer. It is a familiar feeling to miss College life over the summer break, despite remembering itching for the semester to be over before the summer began, the supplemental exam combined the two feelings in the worst way, with the additional pressure of knowing that if you fail, you may not get back to the parts you usually miss this time of the year. In addition to this, a major stress point is the perceived feelings of how high the stakes are. Knowing you are prepared is one thing but the consequences of failing to prepare properly topped up my fears no matter how many quizlets I passed or mock tests I did well in.

“…with all of us at home, there is likely only so much support we can gain from the college online and away from campus.”

For being the most stressful assessment of my life, I found none of the typical support systems are in place during the summer, or at least did not feel as widely available. One thing definitely I missed were office hours, and opportunities in lectures and tutorials to ask the questions you need to ask, or that are just naturally answered and explained. Truthfully and unsurprisingly, having something explained to you in person by an expert on the topic is much more effective than scrolling through endless website pages, readings, and Youtube clips as you try to make sense of a topic yourself. A reminder of the mental health services for students were sent out in our general good luck email from the days before the exam, when I have a feeling that students who were struggling would have needed this message a lot sooner. However again, with all of us at home, there is likely only so much support we can gain from the college online and away from campus.

The stress of the reassessment period did not stop after the exam, or even after the results were officially released. Hundreds of students who sat these exams are unable to start college on September 12 with everyone else, with module selection only being made available to them from September 14 to close on the following Sunday. Had the assessment week taken place a week earlier this setback could have been avoided for a considerable number of students. Not knowing what modules I am going to be able to pick from is not ideal for trying to find out what classes to go to from friends in my course. Due to the delay in module selection, and subsequently timetables being provided, resit students are now behind before they begin. The exam process was tiring enough, and the fact that it is not being followed by a smooth transition into the next year adds insult to injury. A quick turnover of exams and a new term would have been disorienting enough, nevermind missing out on the first week, playing catch-up games before the term has begun.

Abby Cleaver

Abby Cleaver is the current life editor at Trinity News, having previously served as comment editor, and is a final year English literature and philosophy student.