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 brakes 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.)

It’s practically my first real exam.  I could count my CompTIA A+ certification (1995?) and my Knowledge of Life and Language in the UK (2014, I think) exams, but they were each considerably quicker than an hour.  My Graduation Equivalency Diploma in 1996 definitely counts, though.  It was a three hour exam taken at the community college I dropped out of, so … Awkward.

Subsequent to my last post about MST-124 revision, I’ve gone through every unit of the module completing practice workbooks offered on the module.  I had intentionally saved these for revision, but forgot about them until just after my last post.  It took about three weeks to get through them, but it paid off.  My performance on past papers went up nearly 10%, and I now feel like I’ve got a real shot at a distinction, if I can keep my brain fresh for just one more week.

Next Tuesday is the exam.  I panicked today and bought new pencils to keep in my car.  And cough sweets/drops because … Look, I already said I panicked.

What I’d like to do from now until then is just do every past exam paper over and over.  I’m not remembering the exact answers, and the questions are all so similar (at least for the 2-mark Section A questions 1 through 32) that they all blur together, which may be further helpful in the exam.  They take just under 2 hours each, though, so the commitment is not insignificant, and I only have time after the little ones’ bedtime.

At some point I’m going to properly review MST124 and TM129, but I don’t know if I’ll get it done before or after results day, which is mid-July.  I should probably do it sooner rather than later, because my opinion of TM129 appears to be plummeting the more time passes.

My revision plan has been … untenable.  I had hoped to start with a practice of the entire exam, find my weak spots and get a sense of time, and slowly work away at those, then do another full practice of the entire exam maybe a week before the actual exam time.  I liked this plan because the weak spots identified this way would be exactly the types of questions to show up in the exam, as the exam questions seem to (mostly) follow similar types of question year after year.  The practice exam before the real exam would hopefully work as a confidence builder going in, or at least a road map of where to start cramming in the last week.

Unfortunately, this plan requires two uninterrupted blocks of three hours several weeks apart.  I can’t seem to get any block of time that large while working full time, caring for little ones, and other responsibilities.  I’ve been so good with time management for studying over the last two years that it’s completely escaped my attention that I normally handle small day-to-day home life responsibilities a few times an hour between blocks of concentration.

So instead, I’ve been revising … everything.  All twelve units.  I got through the last one a couple of nights ago.  I’ve been tracking my progress using MST-124’s Revision Quiz.  This is a quiz with just 12 questions, one random one from each unit.  I’d have thought that this structure would make it very uneven for a battery quiz, but it proved to be quite effective.  No matter how many times I took it prior to revising, it took me one hour (with a variance of 7 minutes).

After three weeks of revision, it’s down to under 25 minutes.  I’m pretty sure that’s as fast as I’ll be able to get, so the rest of revision will be all about accuracy.  It’s a shame my revision time is nearly half up already.  Most students are starting their revision period today, though (as our final TMA was due last night), so I’ve given myself a large advantage.

More good news comes in the form of realising how much I actually have to remember.  A pass is 40% and the exam is made up of multiple-choice questions with five possible answers each.  If x is the percentage of the exam I can remember from revision, then assuming I get 1/5 of the remaining answers correct from the things I don’t remember, then in order to pass, I need

x + 0.2(100 – x) ≥ 40
+ 20 – 0.2x ≥ 40
0.8x ≥ 20
≥ 25.

So if I remember 25% of the material covered by the exam, and I get 1/5 of the remaining 75% (or 15% of the total) questions due to probability, that should combine to see me through to the 40% needed to pass.  Although making assumptions based on probability isn’t wise, at least I know my basic algebra is sufficient.

I’m done with the OCAS portion of MST-124!  That means that all my assignments are submitted, and the only the left is my certain doom the exam.  Thanks to the bewildering array of rules which make up the OU’s assignment substitution policy, I didn’t really have to submit my last assignment, TMA04, and would still have achieved a distinction level on the OCAS portion of the module.

It’s in, though, and I’m done!

Oh, wait, no.  There’s still that doom exam I mentioned.  Erm.  Imma talk more about the TMA.

The last TMA was by far the most difficult.  At least two, and maybe three questions aren’t directly referenced by the module materials at all.  And one other question is quite possibly a trick question.  I found three distinct and justifiable answers to it, so we’ll see how the one I picked goes.  (I liked maths because there wasn’t a subjective nature to the answers.  What are you doing to me?)

There’s one sub-part to a question which … Goodness.  It looked darned near unsolvable.  In fact, I thought it literally was for a few moments hours, because the modules basically only state that this type of thing exists, and doesn’t describe it at all.  Other websites also didn’t go into very much detail about the topic, so for once that didn’t help at all.  After trying very, very hard to crack the nut, I randomly selected the right nutcracker and found that … well, it was really all very simple all along.  (Except that it specifically asks you to do it in a way that makes it look impossible.)

I tried to make that last paragraph more vague, and I think I just about got it perfect.

So … Guh.  Revision.  I have a plan.  I’ve glanced at enough past exams papers to note that the majority of questions come from a set of very specific types of questions.  If I only revise those types of questions, I’ll probably come out with a Pass 2.  I’m starting to think a Pass 1 will be impossible due to how slow I am, and not all questions are from that specific set.  But we’ll see how it goes.  I’ve managed to give myself two extra weeks of revision time by finishing the study materials early.

2018/05/17 Edit: The mark on TMA04 for MST124 was the same as all others: 100.  I really would have liked some kind of feedback on my TMAs, and really only got tick marks on the answers.  I’m sure there were different approaches I could have used which could have been faster, or easier to remember, or in some other way preferred.  At least I can say I’ve been happy with my effort level all year long.  My practice exams are all coming within 3% of a distinction, so I’m really going to have to get that up about 10% to be confident under exam conditions.  I’ve got two and a half weeks, so here’s hoping!