Semesterised Exams

One aspect of third level courses I never considered before starting University was whether the course exams were semesterised or not. Semesterised exams means that there are two sets of ‘final’ exams each year, instead of one.

In my time in UCD, it was always one set of exams each year in May (UCD later moved to a semesterised system in 2005/06). In third year for example, we had 12 exams over about three weeks. The lectures for those exams commenced in September and finished in late April, and there were one or two lectures per week over that period, depending on the volume of material or importance of the subject. For some subjects, there may have been some element of continuous assessment during the year, which would mean that your mark for that subject wasn’t completely dependent on the final exam in May, but for most subjects it was purely determined by that one exam. Even if you were very well prepared for your exams, by the time the 12th exam rolled around, you probably hadn’t looked at any of that material for at least a month and probably longer. By that stage, you were probably so tired it was hard to care anyway! Friends of mine were studying in NUI Galway and UL, both of which were semesterised. Instead of doing 12 subjects over the course of the year, they might have 6 for the first semester (September to December) and the remaining six in the second semester. Exams for the first semester subjects would take place at Christmas while the remaining subjects would be examined in May.

The semesterised system has several benefits:

  • The workload is distributed more evenly across the year
  • Because there is probably less cramming involved, students are more likely to retain information in the future
  • The Christmas set of exams gets you in the study groove earlier in the year, or ought to at least!
  • Overall, the pressure on students is reduced as the result for the whole year does not depend on one period of exams
  • If a student is having difficulty that will affect their performance in exams, these problems are identified earlier and can be addressed earlier


  • Less time for taking it easy and enjoying the social side of college!
  • For students doing part-time work, it arguably makes it a little more difficult for them to find the time as the overall period of studying is extended

In my opinion, the semesterised system is preferable to the one-period-of-exams approach. March, April and May were generally very pressurised periods in college and (in theory at least!) I would have been better prepared for exams in a semesterised system.

Six of the seven Irish universities use the semesterised system, with UCC being the most recent to adopt the approach in 2014/15. The exception is Trinity College, where a move to a semesterised system is under consideration. That said, it is unlikely to be in place for a number of years as such a change takes time to implement.

Different colleges schedule the Christmas exams at different times; NUI Galway, UCC, UCD and UL all have exams before Christmas, while Maynooth and DCU favour the after-Christmas approach. In my opinion, before Christmas is preferable as it allows the student to fully enjoy the Christmas break without the worry of exams hanging over them.

Please note that academic years with work placements may differ and while the above is true for the majority of courses, there may be certain exception courses that do not conform to that calendar.

If you are interested in the system used in any of the Institutes of Technology or Colleges, generally the best way to find out is by googling <name of institution> academic calendar.