Come to Trinity College Dublin from the end of April to the beginning of May and you are in for a unique experience. Tourists look on at the students wondering what kind of horrendous institute selects only pale, sickly looking students who are on the edge of tears or a mental breakdown. Yes, that right, TCD hits exam mode and the students look far from normal. Its like placing us on a reality TV show where we are required to spend over 10 hours a day sitting at a desk under dim lighting staring at a massive book, with a huge pile of awaiting knowledge sitting right behind it. The diet consists solely of coffee, or other caffeine and energy drink substitute, chicken fillet roles, and chocolate. The result is stressed out, malnourished, and agitated students rushing about trying to fill as much knowledge as there brains will allow, and when their brains refuse to take in more to start simply drinking more caffeine and pushing through.
What is all this for? Is it to supply tourists and departments with entertainment as the observe the various ways the students crack under pressure? I mean it is funny to watch your fellow classmates get hyperactive from lack of sleep, and make fun of the others who simply stare into space when you attempt to have a conversation with them that doesn’t involve Plato’s world soul, but surely that can’t be the only reason. The premise for this social experiment (which is what I prefer to think of it as) is an examination of knowledge. Well to a certain extent that seems fair. However, why is knowledge now something that is poured out onto grey or green booklets in the space of three hours? It’s as if the departments are saying: “Here’s a date by which you must have at least three intellectual thoughts. You may to some extent formulate them before, but to make it more fun we aren’t going to give you the questions, so its actually three intellectual thoughts in three hours. Go.” It seems most unnatural. Indeed, I think the Philosophy Department is the worst culprit. If all philosophy is a footnote to Plato then I don’t think he would approve of this method of intellectual discovery. What happened to the dialectic? For the search of knowledge which is ‘of what is and unerring’?
To a certain extent I’m just a student moaning. For I am sure academics would pipe up at this point telling me if I had worked continuously all year there would be no need for this horrendous experience. It’s self-inflicted and I only have myself to blame. Even if this is the case, I merely wish to point out that the exam period is the makings of a dystopian novel, or a Swift like satire on human behaviour come to life. It is an interesting way to look at how we as humans deal under pressure and in extreme circumstance. We don’t need The Hunger Games to find dystopia, we just need to attend Trinity Term. Dystopia’s then are not solely the work of transcending a current state of affairs but rather a state of affairs that may fulfil the ‘condition in which everything is as bad as possible’ (OED) in reality. But so as not to end on a horrible note, it is only in living through the dystopian reality of exams, that students appreciate the utopian aspect of regular life on the other side. So maybe its got a positive purpose after all.