The Bane of Christmas Exams

christmas examsThe Christmas season is a busy time of year when thoughts turn to celebrations, shopping, travel arrangements, friends to catch up with and family to see. Add in revision and study for those vital Christmas examinations and a third level student’s lot begins to look less attractive, especially as the entire nation seems focused on winding down, socialising and preparing for the holidays.

Many third level colleges in Ireland have changed over to a semester based system, where modules are taught along with continuous assessment of the student. Credits are gained for each module and examinations take place at Christmas/New Year and again in Summer. Dividing the academic year into two parts definitely has merit and dual examinations avoid the added burden of extra revision and study that would be otherwise required at the end of the year.

With exams at Christmas, students can complete the exams and have time to enjoy a relaxing break with a fresh start to look forward to in the new semester on return to college. By partioning the year, it means performance is spread across two semesters and overall results do not depend on just one final push at year end finals. For the student who is forced to miss summer final exams due to ill health or other circumstances, with one round of exams completed, they already have half a year completed. Therefore to repeat exams or repeat a semester is not as bad as repeating a whole year.

On the other side of the argument, many students feel burdened by continuous assessment. They feel under scrutiny at all times which in some cases leads to stress and anxiety. Many students speak of having to adapt to the way a module is going to be assessed or choosing to opt out of modules if it does not suit their style of learning. For example, if a module includes a presentation, essay and end of semester exam there are rigid dates to work to and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, there are plenty that do not like this highly structured approach.

With everybody in a holiday mood students are often distracted from the exams with all the college events taking place. It takes a lot of discipline to remain focussed at this time of year. Shorter holidays mean there is less opportunity for work, which many students are reliant on to earn extra income to support themselves in college. The Christmas exams can preclude them from seasonal work as the exams finish late in December or in early January.

There is also a point to be made about the timing of the Christmas exams. Many students understandably want to get the exams out of the way, but some colleges do not have the exams until January upon returning to college. This can mean additional pressure for those who may be travelling over the Christmas season or who may have other commitments such as part-time work. On the plus side, the Christmas holiday allows for study and revision days once the celebratory days are out of the way. While there are no hard and fast statistics regarding exam timing & exam results correlation, exams after Christmas are likely to favour more disciplined students who can set aside distractions.

As more colleges move over to the semester system, it looks like Christmas/New Year examinations are here to stay. The system is popular with the academic community as it puts the student in a position to be assessed and mentored throughout the education process relying on standard metrics to assess performance. Many students are not quite as enthusiastic as it means additional pressure, where they feel they have to be in examination mode for large and sometimes inopportune parts of the year.

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Author: Denise Colebrooke

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