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PASS at SOAS: Enhancing Education at University

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By Naima Zannat (PASS Intern).

PASS (Peer Assisted Study Support) involves sessions led by higher year students (called PASS leaders) who support the learning of lower year peers in a group learning environment. These sessions supplement existing learning in lectures and tutorials in a more informal environment led by students. Here at SOAS, the scheme is currently targeted at students studying Arabic, Mandarin or Persian as part of their degree.

Here are a few words from PASS leaders about their experiences on the scheme: Fatima Al-Habib (second year BA Arabic and Development Studies) and Amelia Storey (second year BA Arabic and History).

What is PASS in your own words?

Fatima : They are basically weekly sessions and are held for one hour a week where first year students can ask questions about Arabic to PASS leaders (who are students usually in the years above). As PASS leaders, we try to help students get to the answer. We’ll go over chapters and example sentences in the book. We help students solve problems independently. They can come to us with any questions with Arabic such as grammar and speaking.

What does a typical PASS session include?

Amelia: A typical PASS session varies depending on the PASS leaders. So myself and the other PASS leaders approach them with an open mind. We don’t necessarily go in with a fixed structure and we normally have an idea of what activities we can do.  But we prioritise whatever students are finding particularly difficult in any given week. So, they will come to us with questions where they didn’t have much time to ask their professors.

Fatima: Also, it doesn’t have to be about grammar, it can be tips about strategies of learning vocabulary. For example, recommending useful resources such as apps.  Even if it is just general advice like exam preparation, students can turn up and we’ll see what we can help them with. We guide students.

Amelia: So myself and the other PASS leader also meet up with the academic coordinator of Arabic – Mr Said and we will discuss with him what we think students are finding particularly difficult. He can also go through that again when he has time with them.

Why should first-year students consider going to PASS sessions?

Amelia: PASS sessions are a space to breathe and continue to learn in a relaxed environment where people are understanding and empathetic and also have the ability to support and help you in your understanding of your own subjects.

When I was in my first year I thought that I could do it all by myself and that I wasn’t going to personally get anything out of speaking to other students. I think a lot of other people have that attitude especially when they’re learning languages because they think you can only really get by with hard work which is mainly sitting in the dark dim library by yourself and burying your head in books- and yes to an extent that is true.  However, I think that in my first year, PASS would’ve benefitted me from getting out of the library, going to a nice airy classroom and speaking to somebody who knows exactly what I was going through or could at least empathise very much.

Fatima:  I mean it is open to anyone and not only targeted at people who are struggling with Arabic, anyone could come – that’s the whole point. It’s a very non-judgemental environment where students can come and ask whatever they want. It’s also a place where students can meet new people and help each other out to get to the answer of a problem.  It’s a nice session for everyone.

Getting to know someone who was in your position not that long ago is invaluable. We are a source of friendly advice- we’ve done it before and we’ve done things wrong. 40 minutes/50 minutes a week is not a huge amount of time – if students attend they’ll spend it well. It is also more active, students can get involved more, and it really helps with practicing the language. In lectures, maybe students might sit and listen. In PASS, everyone will be doing something.

Any advice for people interested in becoming PASS leaders?

Fatima: Go for it – you have nothing to lose. It is a cool experience to have- there’s not much pressure, it’s not like a tutor where you are directing people on what to do. You meet really funny people and it is a nice environment. It is not that demanding.

Amelia: I think I would say to someone who wants to be a PASS leader that you have to understand why PASS is a great thing and stand by it. I think everyone can get something out of it. It is an opportunity for me to revisit things that I covered last year but don’t necessarily have time to revise this year. It’s a good reminder as well of how far Arabic students do come from the first year to the second year. It’s nice and reassuring.

For more information about PASS, please contact Learning and Teaching Development at [email protected]

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