The Trial of Resitting: Navigating the Labyrinth of College Exam Resits

Resitting exams can often feel like a losing battle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right strategies in place, resits can be a manageable experience.

So, you got your results back. You failed an exam, or two, or more, and you don’t know what to do. Summer is ruined and you don’t know how to process this information. Your J1, internship or other summer plans are in the air, and you may not even be eligible for your Erasmus. The realisation that college is actually hard and not just party central is starting to hit. It’s not something you do on purpose, just something that happens sometimes.

There is a significant lack of communications about what resits are, and what students need to do for them other than study. I was there before, not knowing where to go, when timetables would come out, or whether I had to register or pay to sit them. So worry not, I will be your guide to the journey of passing your supplemental exams, discussing my experience and some advice I learned the hard way. I failed three exams last year, resat them and got very good grades, and some wisdom from the experience. I’ve been there and enjoyed it so much I decided to do it all again this year, forgoing the opportunity to do an internship-for-credits or go away for Erasmus during Hilary term 2024 instead. 

The first question you should ask yourself is “When should I start studying for my exams?”. That depends on how many you need to resit and what grade you are aiming for. Most exams are uncapped, so a I.I at the resits has the same weighting to your grade for the year as a I.I obtained on the first sitting. This goes doubly for sophister years which may count to your final grade for your degree. 

I took a few weeks off from studying between the end of Hilary exams and the start of my studying, finding a job in between the two of them. The job wasn’t hard, and being pretty much next door to Trinity was a big bonus for motivating me to study once I did start, a few weeks later, as it was easier to get to the library than to go home, unless I was closing that day, because bus services would finish before I could get some study with good élan, at least three hours a day, going through material for two of the three modules. This would be fairly bad as it turns out: between June and December 2022, I had one week off, spent waiting for my results to come out before going back into college faster than I could realise that I had wasted my summer. I was aiming high for these resits, but a little lower wouldn’t have hurt me. I knew the exam layouts like the back of my hand, but that knowledge didn’t serve much following the publication of results. 

My biggest mistake, one I have the wisdom of knowing this year, is taking days off from studying. Take breaks during study sessions, to get some air and watch cricket or people at the Pav if the weather allows it, or just stand at the door of Kinsella Hall (because who would bring an umbrella to the library during an Irish summer?) and from studying from time to time. Between working and studying, often both on the same day, I gave myself one day off from the moment I started studying in late June until I finished my exams in early September. 

The consequence of this was that I was burning out before reading week of Michaelmas term and had strongly considered going off-books for a few weeks. I didn’t, which was probably the better choice for me in that situation, but I struggled through the remainder of the semester, struggling to get out of bed and into college, and staying in the library afterwards. I further considered going off-books, and failed two more exams, a sequence of events that may be connected. I took time off after the exams, and felt better during Hilary term, but taking more time off during the summer wouldn’t have hurt my performance at the supplemental session with adequate preparation, and subsequently during Michaelmas term. 

There’s a few other important questions to be asked, and I will go through these. The first is how much does it cost to resit? It’s free I was surprised but relieved the first time I was preparing to resit. Not having to deal with paying for resits relieved a lot of pressure on me, allowing me to focus solely on exam prep. Whether you fail one, or you fail 10, it doesn’t cost you a penny. Another thing I didn’t have to worry about was being automatically signed up to sit the exams no need to worry about missing a deadline because you didn’t check my.tcd during the summer. 

As mentioned previously, most exams are uncapped. In the olden days of 2018 or something, failing an exam would make it so the resit had a maximum mark you could obtain, 40%. They don’t do this anymore, so the maximum you can get is 100% now, even if they want to bring it back, but failing an exam is punishment enough, and missing out on Erasmus, internships or the opportunity to do an integrated masters is a strong incentive to not fail on purpose. 

For anyone at who sits on the Undergraduate Studies Committee, or has some input at the school level on whether to bring it back (read: Directors of Undergraduate Teaching and Learning), know that nobody fails an exam on purpose, and that a higher cap would still have the same punitive effect without increasing the number of I.I given out, such as if they were capped at 50/60%, or if any marks above a pass were reduced by a set fraction, with any marks above a pass being worth 0.75 of a mark, making obtaining a I.I a much more challenging endeavour. We shouldn’t be like Cambridge, who have very harsh punishments for failing, preventing people from resuming their studies if they fail an exam, and there is an argument to be made to not have no disincentive to fail, but being on the next rung of the ladder isn’t the best solution to this dilemma. 

If you don’t believe you have it in you to do this all over, don’t worry. It’s normal to feel anxious. I feared I would fail again, and went to the 24 hour toilets in the X Library several times to have minor breakdowns and make large online purchases. I ate a 16 pack of Kinder chocolate every day. I watched more cricket snippets during study breaks in College Park than ever before. There are plenty of resources available to help deal with the stress of exams that are healthier than 16 bars of chocolate or breaking down in the toilets. There are resources available to help you through these times, through College Health, the Student Counselling Services, Academic Registry and the Student’s Union, with a full list and links available at the end of the article, even if they don’t get as much advertising as they would get during the annual sessions.

With this in your arsenal, you will have all the tools at your disposal that you may possibly need to pass your upcoming exams. It’s at times like this that you need to remind yourself that yes, you do belong in this college, even if sometimes it feels like College would rather you be a tourist. Failing is part of the problem solving process, and you only truly fail if you give up.