Novel idea for students who fail exams

NUI Galway SU President Declan Higgins, NUI Galway SU Welfare Officer Aoife Ni Shuilleabhain, USI President Kevin Donoghue and NUI Galway SU Education Officer Phelim Kelly at the Student Achievement Awards last week. PHOTO: CONOR McCABE

A student campaign called ‘Failure Week’, run by NUI Galway Students’ Union Vice President for Education Phelim Kelly, won an award at the Student Achievement Awards Ireland (SAAI) run by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) last week.

These were the third annual Student Achievement Awards, and saw student leaders and representatives gather at Dublin Castle to mark the contribution made to student life by individuals, clubs and societies, and to reflect on campaigns and initiatives taken on campuses across the island of Ireland.

Mr Kelly, who is the current Vice President for Education at NUI Galway SU, received the Best Education Campaign Award at the event.

The idea for the Failure Week campaign, according to Mr Kelly, came from a large amount of case work which primarily dealt with students who failed exams after the summer and autumn exams.

“The stress levels were stretched to the forefront of every student I saw. They genuinely believed that they were the only ones who failed and felt extremely demoralised in the process,” Mr Kelly explained.

The Failure Week campaign was aimed at first and second year students to let them know that it is quite normal to fail an exam or not do as well as they had hoped, and to take something useful from the experience.

“I went into lectures for quick presentations on what to do if you fail an exam, be it that the paper didn’t go your way, or there was something going on at the time. It was basically to inform as many students as possible what to do in these situations and that they were not alone in the process,” said Mr Kelly.

During the year, Mr Kelly also ran a number of workshops, which dealt with failure and future performance, mind-mapping and procrastination.

The Failure and Future Performance workshop, run by the student counselling service, aimed to get students out of the demoralised stage, to help them to get back on track and to encourage them to take something positive from their failure. Students were given tips and advice of all sorts from effective breathing techniques to getting rid of Netflix at exam time.

“Mind-mapping is a study technique clinically proven to improve the way in which you retain information and to enhance your grades. Students participated in an active workshop to learn this technique and to help them study for the summer exams,” said Mr Kelly, speaking about his mind-mapping workshop, which was given by Dr Dermott Burns in the NUI Galway English Department.

Procrastination is an issue that has been experienced by a large percentage of the student population and with his procrastination workshops, Mr Kelly aimed to get students out of the “due tomorrow, do tomorrow” state of mind, helping them to set short-term goals or targets to get them on a study schedule.

“Students found this of great benefit. The Students’ Union collaborated with the Academic Writing Centre in the library to help students write essays. One of the exercises involved writing everything down and to keep writing until all the information was on paper,” said Mr Kelly.

But despite his hard work, Mr Kelly has yet to see the full results of this campaign. In the past, the Students’ Union ran a number of exam stress campaigns before the exams, but the Failure Week campaign is specifically designed to help students who “fell through the cracks”, he said.

“One of the most important aspects of the campaign addressed mental health issues, which can arise out of the exam period. If anything, it helped to normalise the notion that sometimes it is okay to not be okay and that nobody is having an easy time through college, but most importantly, they know that they are not alone in this struggle.”

This campaign, according to Mr Kelly, was part of a larger campaign which aims to combat the high level of student drop-outs. “Student retention is to the forefront of any Students’ Union and this is one way in which we can show both staff and students that ‘Every Student Matters’.”

The Student Achievement Awards, which were presented by broadcaster Tara Flynn, saw 20 awards made to individuals, Students’ Unions and clubs and societies from across the country.

“I just feel absolutely chuffed to be recognised on a national basis for the work I’ve put into the Students’ Union this year in my term as Education Officer. I never thought for a second I would actually get the award, I just thought I would give it a go and see what happens,” said Mr Kelly.