Confused? Go to PAL…


It’s first year, you’re sitting in a seminar, and you’re nodding your head in agreement at something your tutor is saying in an attempt to look like you know what they’re talking about. Or maybe you’re not in first year and you’re just confused.

Everyone at university has been in a situation where they feel out of their depth, and it can be far easier to settle for pretending everything is fine instead of doing anything about it. Where would you even start? Your housemates all do different subjects, you don’t know many people in your classes, your lecturer probably has no idea who you are, and you’ve never seen such a big library in your life… There’s an endless list of possible reasons why you may want to stick your head in the sand and hope that that one little passage doesn’t show up in the exam.

Talking to people in your classes about the things you don’t understand is probably the easiest way to deal with this setback. Now I don’t know about you, but interrupting a seminar to admit that I don’t know something important isn’t my idea of a great time. You get the most out of seminars when you prepare in advance, after all. But weekly sessions, run by students for students, sound like a much safer place to start. Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) is exactly that: students who took the module last year run sessions for people currently taking it, and help them figure out what’s going on.

Last year I volunteered as a PAL Leader in my department and helped field questions like “Where even is Thebes anyway?” and “Why are the 700s called the 8th century?” You’d be surprised by the number of times one person would ask a question, and suddenly it would all come out: texts are difficult to understand or no one remembers definitions or referencing is way harder than it looks. Sometimes the people in your classes have the same questions as you do, and you’d never even know it. But just as often they’ll have the answers to your questions too, and that’s the really important thing.

PAL Leaders aren’t there to teach you like a lecturer, and it’s a good thing too; in one session I drew such a geographically inaccurate map of Greece that I should have been dropped from my course on the spot. But at the end of the day, everyone at that session remembers what Greece actually looks like, or at the very least they know where Sparta isn’t, which is more than they may have known when they came in. Sessions will always be based on student feedback, which means Leaders will always focus on something the group is struggling with. The best way to get the most out of your education is to take control of it, and showing up to PAL sessions is a great place to start!

For more information about PAL click here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: