My Experience sitting the Foundation Scholarship Exams (Schols)

Hi friends, hope we’re all keeping well.

Here in Trinity College Dublin, there exists a special set of exams that can only be taken by Senior Fresh (2nd Year) students, called the Foundation Scholarship exams.
The purpose of the Foundation Scholarship exams is to identify students who can consistently demonstrate exceptional knowledge and understanding of their subjects. It is often boasted by the college to be the most prestigious undergraduate award in Ireland, with successful Scholars being entitled to impressive benefits such as free tuition, on-campus accommodation, evening meals, and even an annual salary.
In order to be successful, students must attain an overall First Class Honours (70-100%) in their course’s Scholarship exams, as well as meet other requirements.

Towards the beginning of my 2nd year in college, I made the firm decision that I would attempt these exams.

The Preparation

Looking back, the preparation and study I did for these exams was some of the most intense preparation I’ve ever done in my life, tied closely with studying for the Leaving Certificate. If I was going to go for this, I knew I wanted to give a fairly good try. I had started relative early in comparison to my peers too, just a few weeks before the term started. This period mainly consisted of consolidating and brushing up my 1st year weak points, which the summer exams very helpfully pointed out to me.

Consulting past Scholars in my course, completing supplementary readings and past papers, drilling lecturers for information, even purchasing Chegg and AlgoExpert subscriptions to hone my skills; pretty much anything which I thought would give me an edge in these exams, I most likely did. Adding on the fact that going for Schols (the colloquial term for the exams) was completely optional made the workload exponentially harder, as it was tough to spend holiday time cooped up in the library knowing my friends were out with family enjoying themselves; a struggle not shared with the Leaving Cert period as I knew ALL my friends were in my same situation back then.

I was quite fortunate to have a good friend in my course also gunning for the Scholarship, which meant we often collaborated and sympathised with each other’s struggles. Whenever a past paper question had me stumped, it was nice to cooperate with a course-mate on how to solve it. The shared camaraderie was definitely one of the highlights of an otherwise dark and dull period.

The preparation went on fairly consistently for a couple months, before the exams began in January. Suffice to say, I had walked out each and every one of them dazed and disheartened. It was actually quite amusing, as each time when I thought the next exam could not possibly get any worse, it did in fact, get worse.

Results Day

The gap between the exams and the results day was just around 4 months, which was a long and excruciating wait. For the entire time up until the night before results day (otherwise known as Trinity Monday), I was certain I would not attend the announcement of the new Scholars in the Front Square. It was only after a request from another friend who sat Schols, did I eventually give in. I decided that in the end, regardless of the result, I needed to face it and hear it in person.

The way they called out students who were successfully elected as Scholars followed a particular order, namely alphabetical order by courses. If there was a course that had new Scholars, the Provost (president of the College) would first call out the course name, followed by the number of new Scholars in the course, and then the names. Since I study ‘Management Science and Information Systems’, if I was successful (or if anyone in my course, MSISS, was successful), we would be called after Law and before Mathematics.

On that rainy Trinity Monday, the Provost skipped straight from Law to Mathematics.
In other words, no one in my course had gotten it, the 3rd year in a row.

I had ranked the highest in my course with a Second Class Honours First Division (II.1), which was close to, but still ultimately below the required First Class Honours (I).

Now, at the time of writing this it’s been almost a full month after the results have come out, and I think I’ve recovered fairly well. The weeks straight after the results were, quite honestly, some of the most depressing and painful I’ve experienced. It was rough knowing that all the effort and time I had spent essentially proved fruitless, and I ultimately failed hard in my goal.

It’s also very easy to see in hindsight what I did wrong. I wasn’t comprehensive enough in my revision for maths, economics and programming, I didn’t spend enough time looking at a specific section, etc.

In the end, I feel like even though it’s good to retrospectively analyse where I went wrong, it’s even more important to accept this defeat and continue moving forward. This failure has helped me realise I’m really not that academically invincible (I got humbled), and has given me a true cold, hard taste of what it’s like to spend so much time and effort on something, and still failing; which I feel may be important in the future.

So, given the result, do I regret signing up for the scholarship exams? Probably yes and no. While I didn’t recognise it at the time of results, I did HUGELY improve all my academic areas by studying for these exams. All of my MSISS knowledge saw a dramatic boost; in economics, statistics, probability, mathematics, management science and programming. I’ve strengthened friendships and forged new ones through a shared camaraderie studying for the exams, and have genuinely learnt a lot. Not to mention, ironing my soul by spending so much time in library 🫠. Ultimately, the experience was pretty painful, but I can genuinely recognise that this experience with failure will prove useful in the future, and that later on, I can probably look back with no regrets.

Thanks for reading it this far if you did. To any prospective Schols challengers, I would say give it a go if you do really want to try! Best of luck!

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