School of Social and Political Science

Academic Skills Development Certificate


What is the Academic Skills Development Certificate?

The Academic Skills Certificate is a year-long development award that facilitates skill building in key areas that support your studies.

It recognises your commitment to undertaking additional opportunities to enhance your academic skills, and encourages a reflective outlook throughout, identifying areas that you may need more support in.

As part of the Academic Skills Certificate, you will attend workshops, training sessions and other opportunities that target learning areas, and contribute towards your progression into honours-level study.

This opportunity is exclusive to School of Social and Political Science (SPS) students only and is aimed at pre-honours SPS students (UG 1 & 2).

Joint honours students that are a “second named student” are eligible for the certificate – for example students on programmes such as History and Politics MA (Hons), or Law and Sociology LLB.

You must enroll and must be started at the beginning of the academic year (September/ October). 

Register Interest Here

Certificate Structure

To complete the Certificate you must:

  1. Achieve 25 engagement points (explained below)
  2. Submit three short reflective surveys on your skill development 


How does the Academic Skills Certificate work?
The Academic Skills Certificate has two parts:
  • attending workshops and other training sessions
  • completion of 3 reflective surveys of your skill sets.

You will start off your certificate by submitting your Self-Assessment, which encourages you to think critically about how you rate key skills in the Graduate Attribute Framework.

This Self-Assessment is to be submitted by the beginning of Week 8 at the latest – however you are encouraged to start the certificate earlier in the Semester in order to maximise the workshop and training provision available to you.

Graduate Attribute Framework

Find out more about the Graduate Attribute Framework Here –

The skills that make up the Graduate Attribute Framework – /pdf/Graduate_Attributes.pdf

Part-way through your certificate, Week 2 of Semester 2, you will submit your Midpoint Reflection, that reviews the same skills as the previous survey and considers progress and development of these skills.

You will also include any Engagement Points achieved by this point. In order for you to get the most out of the Certificate, and to ensure that you manage your workload, we expect to see that you have achieved around half of the total Engagement Points at this submission; i.e. 10 – 15.

At the end of Semester 2, you will submit your Final Self-Assessment, once more reviewing your overall skillset according to the Graduate Attribute Framework, and drawing upon an academic year’s worth of skill building.

You will also submit the log of all Engagement Points achieved, and should have 25 points upon this final submission in order to successfully achieve the Certificate. Find out more about Engagement Points in the section below.

Engagement Points
Each training session, workshop, self-guided course and other activity is worth between 1 and 3 engagement points.

In order to successfully achieve your Certificate, you will need to have completed 25 Engagement Points, attending at least 1 PALS session and 1 SDO Academic Skills Session as part of this.


Session Type

Engagement Point Value

SDO Academic Skills Workshop


PALS Session


Other SDO Skills Workshop


External Workshop (including across the university or an other provider)


Linkedin Learning Course



This approach allows you to design and shape your own learning experience across the Certificate, focussing on the areas that matter most to you, and targeting the key skills that you identified as being less strong in your Self-Assessment survey.

Tracking your Engagement Points

Keeping track of the Engagement Points that you acquire is made straightforward with the downloadable Engagement Point Log from the Learn Ultra Course. You can input the date, duration, title and ‘type’ of session that you attended, as well as the skills associated, and the Engagement Points cell will auto-generate.

A key part of this approach is to ensure that look for sessions that will meaningfully support your skill development, regardless of how long they are, or who delivers them.


An example of how you may achieve the 25 points could be:

Session Type

Points Achieved

SDO Academic Skills Session: Writing Your Essay


SDO Academic Skills Session: Referencing


PALS Session: Sociology 1A session Week 4


PALS Session: Sociology 1A session Week 6


PALS Session: Sociology 1A session Exam Skills


SDO Workshop: Cross-Cultural Communication


SDO Workshop: Going Beyond the Reading List


SDO Workshop: Building Self-Confidence and Resilience


SDO Workshop: Understanding Leadership


Linkedin Learning Course: Cultivating a Growth Mind-set


Linkedin Learning Course: Designing a Presentation


IAD Workshop: (UG) How to read and write critically


Edinburgh Innovations Workshop: Start-up Basics


The Students’ Association Workshop Series: Perfectionism, Compassion and Self-Care





Academic Skills Workshops
The Academic Skills Workshops are sessions led by trained SPS PhD students, tackling a range of key academic skill sets. The sessions cover topics including:
  1. Learning Skills
  2. Reading Skills
  3. Writing Skills
  4. Speaking Skills
  5. Exam Skills

These skills workshops are designed to support you in your initial transition into Undergraduate study, and encourages you to think critically about your transition into Honours level study.

Attending the Academic Skills Workshops is an integral part of your Academic Skills Certificate, and attending at least one session per skill area across the academic year is highly encouraged.

Each of these workshops will be offered at least once a semester. If you are unable to attend a specific session, please get in touch the SDO about other options. 

PALS Sessions

In order to complete the Certificate, you must attend at least 12 hours of SPS PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Scheme) sessions throughout the year. 

New to PALS? Find out more here:

SPS Peer Learning and Support


SPS PALS Subject Areas

There are several peer learning and support (PLS) projects in the School of Social and Political Science, which provide academic and social support for first-year and some second-year students studying courses in SPS.

  • PIRPALS (Politics and International Relations)
  • SDPALS (Sustainable Development)
  • SOCPALS (Sociology)
  • SocAnthPALS (Social Anthropology)
  • PPALS (Social Policy)
  • QMPALS (Quantitative Methods)
  • Social Work Peer Support*

*For social work students, you may opt to conduct independent skills learning via IAD modules, as peer support groups differ slightly from peer-assisted learning sessions. Please get in touch with the SDO team for more information. 

Short Reflective Surveys

To complete the Certificate, you will be asked to submit two short reflective surveys detailing your progress throughout the year:

  1. Initial Survey: To be completed in September/ October 
  2. Midway Survey: To be completed January/February
  3. Final Survey: To be completed in March

The initial survey can be completed below. The following survey will be emailed to you later in the academic year. These reflections should focus on your academic growth and feeling of preparedness for honours. 

How to Enrol on the Certificate

To enrol on the Certificate you must:

  • Review the Graduate Attributes

Graduate Attributes (PDF)

  • Complete the Initial Skills Survey

Register Interest Here

Once successful you will be added to the Academic Skills Certificate Learn Ultra Course.

Here you will find a range of resources, find deadlines and other considerations for completing your certificate, and interact with other students.

Attend workshops between October and March

Workshops and events

For PALS sessions, visit the SPS Peer Learning and Support Hub on Learn (which all first-year SPS students are automatically enrolled onto.)


Available Support

Book a one-to-one appointment

You can book a 15-minute appointment to talk about your progress and any questions you may have.

Book an appointment

Discussion area on Learn Ultra Course

Draw on peer support from other students completing the Certificate on the Learn Ultra Course

You will be added to the Learn Ultra Course upon successful enrollment. 

Email SDO staff

You can email the Student Development Office to get an update on your workshop hours at any time.

Email the SDO team

Additional Useful Information

How do I track my hours?

Use a spreadsheet, notebook or document. The SDO tracks your attendance at academic skills development workshops so we can check the number of hours we have recorded if necessary, but we will be unable to track your PALS sessions.

Halfway through the year you will be asked to submit an update on your hours (both skills workshops and PALS sessions) and then a final log of your hours in your end of year reflection. 

What happens if I have a scheduling conflict with the Academic Skills sessions being offered?

If you are unable to attend a specific session, please get in touch the SDO about other options. We aim to offer at least one live session a semester for each skill. 

What if there are not applicable PALS sessions for my subject area/ year of study?

If you are a UG1 student, there should be a dedicated PALS group for your subject area*.

For UG2 students who are unable to find PALS sessions that are applicable to your current courses, we would suggest you pursue either the SPS Professional Development Certificate or SPS Edinburgh Award for Professional Development. 

*For social work students, you may opt to conduct independent skills learning via IAD modules. Please get in touch with the SDO team for more information. 


What is PALS?

PALS – Peer Assisted Learning Schemes – are academic skill-building sessions led by trained older-year Undergraduate students, known as PALS Leaders. These Leaders are upskilled in the PALS methodology, which encourages a sense of autonomy and reflection throughout. They design and deliver sessions that enable you to boost your confidence in the content that you have already been taught in your courses, to meet other students in your programmes, and to practice key methods of learning and revision.
Towards the end of the semester, and at other key deadline times, PALS sessions will often centre on essay and exam writing skills, how to proofread your own assignments, working with feedback, and other areas integral to your success with assessed work.

PALS exists across the university, and in many universities across the world, and have been proven to increase grades, sense of belonging, and general command of a subject area in the attendees.

SPS has many PALS schemes, including:

SocPALS – Sociology
SocAnthPALS – Social Anthropology
PPALS – Social Policy
SDPALS – Sustainable Development
PIRPALS – Politics and International Relations
QMPALS – Quantitative Methods

Find out more here.

PALS Leaders are often students who attended PALS sessions as first-year Undergraduate students, undertaking training to continue support for new students to the School.

How do I cancel my place on a workshop?

Please cancel your place via the online booking system (Eventbrite) or email the SDO to let us know that you aren't able to attend. By cancelling your place, you will allow another student to benefit from the training.

If you continually fail to attend sessions without cancellation, you may not be allowed to register for future workshops.

What happens if I don’t attend enough sessions?

In order to successfully achieve the Academic Skills Certificate, you need to have completed 25 Engagement Points, as well as submit your 3 skill Self-Assessments.

If, at any point across the year you feel that you are unable to meet these requirements, please get in touch and a member of the team will see how we can support you. You are welcome to withdraw at any point in the certificate, and there will be no record that you have done so. This also doesn’t affect your ability to start the certificate again the following academic year.

If you do not meet the 25 Engagement Points requirement, you will be removed from the certificate – however, are still welcome to attend SDO skills workshops across the rest of the year.


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