Trinity College breaks with 400-year exams tradition
Christmas testing and earlier start brings college into line with most other universities
Trinity College Dublin reforms will result in the teaching term beginning two weeks earlier and the introduction of Christmas exams for the first time. Photograph: Getty Images
Trinity College Dublin is to break with almost 400 years of tradition by introducing Christmas exams and an earlier start to the academic year for its students.
The changes, approved this week by a majority of the university 200 fellows or senior academics, will bring Trinity into line with most European and US universities.
The reforms are due to be introduced from the 2018/2019 academic year onwards.
The proposals drew the ire of some academics who argued it would undermine research and require correcting two sets of exams.
Some also pointed out that top-performing universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have resisted moves towards full semesterisation.
However, Christmas assessments are supported by the vast majority of students who feel it is fairer and eases some of the pressure of a single set of exams in the summer.
A survey run by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union in 2010 found that 90 per cent of students were in favour of a move.
Progress in changing the academic year has been slow given that it requires a change in the college’s statutes, which can only take place with the approval of a majority of Trinity’s fellows.
The threshold for a majority vote is high given that unreturned ballots count as votes against a proposal , under the college’s internal voting system.
The vote in favour of reforming the academic year was carried by just over 60 per cent.
The reforms will make it much easier for Trinity students to travel overseas for part of their studies, according to college authorities. It will also make it easier for students from abroad to come to Trinity.
Prof Chris Morash, Trinity’s vice-provost, said the move will allow greater feedback for students as they learn through assessments, projects or presentations.
“There are no end of studies which show that the feedback students get on what they do is one of the most important factors in shaping how they learn,” he said.
He said the university is always “battling against the effect of the Leaving Cert” in which students are trained “within an inch of their lives” to deal with a single final exam.
“This isn’t giving students feedback on what they did right or wrong – it doesn’t help learning,” he said.
The changes form part of wider set of reforms being driven by college authorities known as the Trinity Education Project.
This project seeks to change the way students are taught and assessed, with plans for greater access for students to modules across other disciplines.
While Christmas exams represent a big change for some disciplines, a number of courses - including medicine - have regular assessments throughout the year.
Academics say Christmas assessments may take a number of different forms depending on the area of study.