Peer learning program helps students prepare for exams

Peer learning program helps students prepare for exams

April 10, 2013


Upper-year students assist first-year students in learning subject-specific study and time management skills as part of Queen's Peer Learning Assistant program.

Fourth-year microbiology student Ashlee Woolfson (Artsci’13) hasn’t forgotten how she felt during the first years of her degree. “As soon as you would finish a course, you would know exactly how to do it better,” she recalls with a laugh. “I remember finishing my second year and wanting to do it over again!”

That’s why Ms. Woolfson signed on as a Peer Learning Assistant (PLA), a volunteer program that sees upper-year students giving back through coaching. They also run workshops covering everything from study skills to time management, and with final exams approaching, they are busy leading workshops specifically designed to help students prepare for exams in specific courses.

“It’s a way to help people avoid making the mistakes you made,” Ms. Woolfson explains. “I feel like I have a lot of wisdom to pass on.”

Elspeth Christie, Outreach Coordinator with Learning Strategies and Student Academic Success Services (SASS), says the program runs tailored workshops for key courses with large enrolments, in everything from biology to psychology, and focuses on helping students hone in on the key concepts they need in order to succeed.

“We realized that developing general learning skills is fine, but there is a real advantage to teaching those skills in the context of a particular subject,” says Ms. Christie.

Jiameng Xu (Artsci’13), who has been volunteering as a PLA since her second year, says before the exam-prep sessions they will get advice from professors on what course material they need to emphasize. Then they build their workshops accordingly. “The professors are generally really supportive,” she says.

Ms. Christie says between 40 and 45 students are engaged as PLAs every year, though many more normally apply. “I think there is a strong culture of volunteering on this campus,” she says. “These students are absolutely amazing. They do good work and they do it from a place of caring and compassion. I’ve never had trouble recruiting people. Ever.”

This article is one in a series profiling SASS and the programs and resources it provides. Read more about the Peer Learning Assistant program.