These last two Stage 1 modules couldn’t be more different.  TM129 was far too easy for 30 credits, was a waste of both time and money, and makes the OU look a bit like a fake university for even offering it.  The tutor support on the module was amazing.  MST124, on the other hand, while being far too time-consuming for a 30 credit module, was a wealth of information, well structured learning, and left me with the single largest academic confidence boost I could imagine.  The word to paint my tutor in the best possible light would be “terrible”, though.

TM129 was born as three separate 10-unit modules.  My guess was that, much like now, students were forced to take all three modules, with no alternatives, so eventually bundled them up and called them a single module.  There’s not much to really tie them together, however.  The first block in the module, Robotics, doesn’t see students building a robot.  Or designing one.  Or touching one.  Or controlling one.  Or learning how to build or design one.  Students do learn how to control one, by using a (barely) modified programming environment for controlling Lego robots.  The amount of programming done is significantly less than in TU100, and probably less than in TM111 and/or TM112, making that bit of the module superfluous.  Understanding actuators, sensors, different high-level models for robot behaviour, and what can only be described as robotic ethics and sociology round out the block.

I’ll be honest, I enjoyed the robotics block.  Most students I spoke to did not.  I was interested enough in the topics covered to start playing around with Arduino processors, and have made some pretty fun little projects since then.

The second block is on networking.  For this, they just give students a Microsoft networking essentials book, and tell them to read most of it.  And that’s the block.  A £30 book which is pretty darned out of date.  On the one hand, it’s not useless information.  It’s a good primer for networking.  On the other hand … It’s a £30 book!

The third block is on Linux.  Several students found it difficult to complete the module because the tools referenced in the module were so far out of date.  It was very, very light on actual information, again.  I didn’t really hate it outright, because I found plenty of tips for every day Linux use.  But as a primer for somebody who doesn’t know Linux, it was insufficient.  For anybody familiar with Linux, it’s unnecessary.  So it’s a block without an audience, really.

Most horribly in relation to all three blocks, the assessments (TMAs and EMA) had essentially nothing to do with the Learning Objectives.  One task asked students to evaluate a server and client needs to recommend a Linux deployment running several different servers, how to install them, how to test them, and complete it in 400 words.  The problem with this is that only installation and testing were mentioned in the module.  Evaluating client needs and researching server software weren’t part of the learning objectives at all.  Neither were questions on Intellectual Property law, and a host of other questions in the other blocks.  It’s like the module team didn’t even read what they’d written, they just came up with some questions that sounded related to the block titles.

Though I enjoyed the blocks (and, perhaps surprisingly, I really did), I have to say that I feel objectively that the module is not fit for purpose and should be boiled in tar.

MST124, on the other hand, was nothing short of amazing.  I started preparing for MST124 literally over a year ago.  By the time October rolled around, I felt like I barely knew enough to get started.  Indeed, I was still making silly mistakes left and right when I started, because I was so far out of practice.

It was an absolute slog of a module.  It would often take me significantly more than 20 hours a week, when the recommendation for a 30-credit module is about 8.  Most of Unit 3 (functions) and Unit 11 (Taylor polynomials) are written very, very poorly, and I recommend anybody studying MST124 find outside reference material to help with them.  Activity 17 in unit 7 will possibly remain in my memory forever as the most horrifically impossible task, until I again sought outside help understanding it.  But other than these rough spots, it was a steady, continuous climb.

I felt like I’d learned everything well enough by the time I completed the routine unit study, but I wasn’t testing well at all.  So I really, really threw myself into revision.  I revised more every week than I’d spent studying.  It would have been six solid weeks, but I was extremely ill for the better part of one week.  (ALWAYS stay one or two weeks ahead of the module planner to cope with unexpected emergencies.)  When it all paid off in time for the exam, I felt completely unstoppable.  I’d gone from struggling with basic trigonometry and never having dealt with logarithms at all to nearly acing an exam which covered topics most people will never learn.

So if my tutor was rubbish, it’s alright.  The materials were brilliant enough without the help.  (Although it was nice to be part of the Facebook group.  Don’t know how far I would have gotten without them.)

So that’s it.  Two completely different modules.  The OU could really learn a lot by having all of the module teams take MST124 and see how amazing it can be done.

Wooooo!  It’s over!  Yesterday was the big day, and I’m done with it.  What follows is sure to be a very long, very rambling description of my first experience with an OU exam.

Things basically began the evening before, when I took my final past exam (September 2014) in exam conditions.  By “exam conditions,” of course, I mean I had to let the dog in and out every twenty minutes, deal with the exam room doubling as a kitchen and tea station, and a desk unsurprisingly as large as a kitchen table.  But it was close enough to get an idea for how well my revision had gone, and it was great: My fastest time (90 minutes) and best score (100%).  I knew it was too good to hope the real thing would go so smoothly, but it bouyed me up with sacks of confidence.

That confidence really took care of my nerves throughout the day.  That, or maybe it’s that it’s my busiest week ever at work and I didn’t have time to panic.  Either way, I didn’t have any performance anxiety.

I’d been advised several times not to arrive more than about 15 minutes before the start of the exam, but that’s not in my nature.  I had to fight with myself not to show up an hour early, but still ended up being about 45 minutes early.

Though the OU description of the venue said that there was “ample parking onsite”, there was not.  It was completely full to bursting, but just caught a space as I was leaving to park at the (expensive) mall car park a ten minute walk away.  I entered, and was greeted with several lovely signs directing OU exams students to wait in the atrium to be called.  The exam was in a hotel, and the atrium was a relaxing place to wait, with a restaurant and a coffee bar, and a water feature filling the room with pleasantly soothing sounds.

It also contained the reason for the lack of parking: Three or four dozen Open University students waiting to take their exam.  Apparently being an hour early would have been about average.  Still, there were enough comfortable armchairs to go around when I arrived, so I settled down to wait.  About half the students I saw had MST124 (or MST125) handbooks with them, some others had different maths books, and there were a few Stage 2 students doing non-maths.  (Interestingly, there were no Stage 1 exams for anything other than maths in our centre.)

I’m not sure when we were called into the hall, as I’d left my phone (and therefore clock) in my car.  I had only my wallet, keys, MST124 handbook, Casio fx85-PLUS calculator, pen, and three pencils with me.  Oh!  And a sack of rhubarb and custard sweeties.  There was a hastily drawn A2-sized map of the room by the door, showing which rows different modules were sitting in, and where the alphabet breaks were on each row.  There were about sixty students in all, with about two dozen there for MST124.

The desks weren’t large.  I’d guess about sixty centimetres wide, and less than half a metre deep.  They could have been worse.  On top of the desk were our desk record (an A5-sized slip of carbon paper with your personal identifier, name, exam number, course name, signature box, and a few boxes to write things), the question booklet, an answer booklet, a folded-over CME (computer-marked exam form), a plastic … clip of some kind, and a flat metal paper clip.  This took up basically the whole desk.  My stomach actually cramped sitting down at it because of the tight squeeze.  I opened my sweeties and placed five of them across the top of the desk (and stowed the rest under my desk) and my three pencils covered the rest of the desk.

One of the invigilators went on for about ten minutes about what not to do, and saying over and over to read all instructions, and follow all instructions.  (What he meant was don’t read all of the instructions and follow all of the instructions, instead guess which instructions pertain to you and follow those, instead.)  And then we started.  For MST124, I should have taken the unnecessary answer booklet and placed it under my desk, and ignored it completely.  But I filled it out dutifully, as it had instructions telling me to do so.

I filled out my desk record, and left it with my driver’s license.  That always has to remain on the desk, so there’s a large chunk of the desk real-estate you’re never getting back.  Next I filled out the admin part of the CME, and placed it on the bottom of all my paperwork.  Finally, I opened up my question booklet, and got to work.

This part I’d practised about half a dozen times at home, so there were no difficulties with it.  I would work a question, see if it matched any answers, and then see what went wrong if it didn’t.  By question 2, I was already stymied.  Nothing matched my answer, or looked very much like it, so I re-worked it, and got the same answer.  I did it two more times, and noticed myself start to get frustrated.  At this point, I mentally put the breaks on, took a deep steadying breath, and convinced myself to skip it and come back to it later.

I completed questions 3 and 4, and noticed while finishing question 4 what I’d probably missed in question 2.  Sure enough, I had the right answer, but a simple re-arrangement soon had me circling one of the answers, and moving onto the second page.

After that, the answers mostly tumbled out.  The pace felt slower than normal, but I wasn’t struggling.  Everything made sense.  There were some tricky questions (and trickier answers) but I felt (mostly) confident about all of them.  I did run into a degrees/radians mistake at one point, but caught myself in time.

My pencils flew off the desk several times, and I felt I must have been the noisiest one in the room.  I didn’t hear anybody else flipping through their handbooks for formulae like I was.  But before I knew it, I’d circled the last answer, and I was reaching for the CME form to put my answers down.

I had bought a pack of Staedtler HB pencils last week, and I’m glad I did.  Even though I’d been using HB pencils for my practice exams, the Staedtlers marked the paper much better.  I’d used one for the question book’s rough work, and one for marking the CME.  So having an extra one that was sharpened and ready to go if anything went wrong was nice.

At this point, 90 minutes had passed, matching my best practice exam.  I then turned my attention to memorising my answers.  All rough work must be done in the question booklet or (unnecessary) answer booklet, and no writing should be done in the handbook, and nothing you write on should be taken out of the room with you.  But I found no rules against memorising my answers.  It’s not easy to walk away with 42 characters memorised, but I stared at my CME for about fifteen to twenty minutes with various mnemonics, and finally had it down.

I gathered my forms and papers and sheets and booklets together, bolted and clipped them all together, and then raised my hand and waited for an invigilator.  She whispered that I’d basically done it all wrong, had me write some numbers in boxes, and did some origami to sort out my paperwork.  Hopefully it all gets marked properly.

I gathered my things, swooped out of the room as quietly as I could, sat in the atrium, and wrote down my answers.  Our results won’t come back for about six weeks, but we can get the questions in about two days, and I’ll be able to check my answers against Wolframalpha and find out how I did.

And I think that’s it.  When the questions are released in a few days, I’ll update with what I think my results are, and I’ll make a different post when my official results are received in July.


2018/06/07 Edit: It looks like I’ve got a 98%!  At the very least, assuming my form gets marked, I’ve got a distinction.  I didn’t seriously consider that a possibility coming into this module.  For my module result to be 98 (from OCAS 99 and OES 98) would have been completely unbelievable to me when I signed up for MST124.  It’ll take a few days to get over the shock.)