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!

It just wouldn’t be OU enrolment if it went smoothly, would it?

Open University FB account: 2018 Enrolment down

I went through enrolment last night.  Not because I stayed up to enrol.  Of course not.  Who would even do that?  I just happened to be awake because … Imma go with working on a TMA or something.

Anyway, I didn’t get any kind of confirmation last night.  Considering how “well” things went for me last year, I decided to ignore it and get some sleep.  Sure enough, I found the above post from the OU’s Facebook account in the morning.

After going through enrolment a second time, I got all the proper confirmations, and all my OU tools (the StudentHome page, my study record, my student loan page …) properly showed my new modules.

So, what am I taking?

The new Q62 Computing & IT structure changes the various former paths to the following four routes:

  • Broad route
  • Communications and networking route (and here I thought networking was communications)
  • Communications and software route
  • Software route

The Broad route further breaks down into the following focuses:

  • Communications and networking focus (here we go again …)
  • Computer science focus
  • Software development focus
  • Web development focus

You have to choose a route (and potentially a focus) for selecting modules at Stage 2 and above.  Since I’m starting my Stage 2 study in October, I have to choose.

My first requirement in choosing second stage modules is that I want to study M269, which is called “Algorithms, data structures and computability”, but is pretty much just the computer science module.  M269 has M250 (Object-oriented Java programming) as a prerequisite, so that’s two modules selected.  I don’t particularly want to do two programming-heavy modules at the same time, so I’ll split up M250 this year and M269 next.  (This is the OU preference anyway, though I’m relatively confident of my ability to convince them to allow simultaneous study if I needed to.)

My other requirement is not taking TM255.  It looks like TU100 part 2.  Any actual “communications” study will take place in the networking module TM257.  The description of TM255 makes it pretty clear that what you’ll really be studying is how to do office work.  (Also, I’m not that keen on TT284 (Web technologies) as the student reviews paint it as a shallow tour of technologies I already have a decent familiarity with anyway (PHP, HTML, JavaScript, MySQL, and SubVersion), and the satisfaction survey makes it look as satisfying as the springtime snow we’re currently getting.)

So what about my other two modules?  Well, the choices are:

  • T227 (Change, strategy and projects at work – looks harmless enough, but it’s really intended to be taken by students of x15, the Computing & IT Practice foundation degree),
  • TM257 (Cisco networking CCNA part 1 – ideally I’d like to get my CCNA in my spare time and avoid spending a module studying it),
  • TM254 (Managing IT: the why, the what and the how – basically project management including software project management),
  • and the two above, TM255 and TT284.

The best of these is TM254.  Project management is a skill set used constantly in IT, and most other office roles.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this year, M250 and TM254, on the Broad route with a computer science focus.  Next year I’ll be doing M269 and … Something else.  I don’t really know yet, but I’m hoping my enthusiasm grows over the next year.


Quick note on my current modules: I’m completely, totally, and in all other ways done with TM129.  (EMA submissions went live today.)  The questions on the EMA were more vague than I could hope, so I don’t really know if I’ll do as well as I did on TU100 last year, but I’m fairly confident of a distinction.

I’m only studying MST124 now, and I’ve only got two units left: Taylor polynomials (which isn’t written very well, so I’m looking for external resources again) and complex numbers.  I’m hoping to be done with both by the end of the Easter break, and I’ll have most of April and all of May for just revision for the exam.  I don’t think I have much of a shot at a distinction there, but halfway through the module, I found that I really wanted to try for one.  So we’ll see how revision goes.

Just as I was starting to despair ever seeing TMA02 again, it popped up in my inbox in the middle of the night, about a week late.  I had a stern talk with it, let it know how nervous I get when it stays out till all hours.  I’d like to say that it wouldn’t happen again, but I think we all know that it will.

The results were again too good.  I didn’t get full marks, as I had half a mark deducted for an amazingly obtuse error on my part, but it rounded back up to full marks for the result.  I don’t think later stages will be so forgiving.  It was, of course, on the one part of the TMA that I couldn’t bring myself to proof read, because it was ages since I’d done it, and barely remembered how.  (The exam’s going to be a real treat at this rate.)  Still, aside from that one mistake, I’m very pleased with how well I’ve been doing.  I’m understanding much more than I thought I would, but that’s often due to seeking resources external to the OU for assistance.

After the slog that was differentiation and integration, studying matrices as an absolute sleepwalk.  They weren’t immediately obvious, but I didn’t have to practise too much before they were second nature.  In fact, I found them downright logical and useful.  The mathematics for linking input and output networks have never been that difficult, but they’re messy, and matrices tidy them up nicely.  I tore through the whole unit in two days, and got to work finishing up TMA03.

I submitted my first draft at about 2:30 AM this morning – just half an hour after I got TMA02 back!  I submitted my second draft at about 10:30 AM.  I’ve given it a decent read through, and it’s probably the best I can do for this round, but again I think I’ll do well with it.  As difficult as calculus is, I feel I’ve done a good job grounding myself with it.  And to do it more than a month ahead of the due date is an unexpected relief.  I thought I’d be struggling for time after the way calculus started off.

Part of TMA03 is a practice section for an exam.  It’s only three questions long, and it took me half an hour to get through it.  (The last question was of a form I’d only practised twice before, so it took me nearly all of the half hour to complete.)  At that rate, come exam time I’ll need a little more than four hours to complete the exam, and they only give us three.  I foresee a lot of practice in my future.


2018/03/29 Edit: MST124’s TMA03 back: Full marks again, no comments from the tutor again.  This one was returned only 20 minutes overdue.  I was really pleased with my effort this time, though, and feel for once that the high marks were deserved.

 

You know how teenagers seem to know absolutely everything?  That’s how I feel today!  I just submitted my iCMA43 (MST124’s quiz for the calculus modules) and got full marks.  I’m absolutely insufferable right now.

There was a tutorial last night for calculus, which I was late for.  (My phone is … Well, it’s hard to describe without swearing.  But I’m blaming the phone because the alternative is to accept responsibility for my own choices, and forget that.)  The tutorial really built my confidence.  I made all the same arithmetic and algebraic errors I always do (so no chance of doing well at the exam), but my understanding was where it needed to be the whole way through.

I still have one or two days worth of calculus to get through, and I need to finish up the calculus parts of TMA03, but I can get back to a normal study schedule.  (I put TM129 to the side to concentrate on calculus.)  So sometime next week I’ll start handling two modules simultaneously again.  Since I only have the Linux block to do there, and I already run dozens of headless Linux virtuals (and one physical Raspbian box), I should be able to complete TM129 long before revision for MST124 starts in May.

My TMA02 results are overdue by a day, now, so I’m doing my best not to be impatient about it.  I get that my tutor is busy, and I’ve been in that situation.  On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that there really was a problem with my submission and there’s nothing to mark.  I’ll probably edit this entry once it’s back.  I’ve spotted a few unimportant mistakes in it, so it probably won’t be as good a result as my last one, but I’m not expecting it to be too much worse.

I almost admitted defeat.

Let me amend that.  I admitted defeat.  Like, forty or fifty times.  On one activity.  (Activity 17, combining differentiation rules, if anybody cares.)  But I also went back for more the same number of times.

I finally conquered it confidently and moved past it, with some help from Sal Khan.  But I wasn’t the only one that was nearly completely derailed by that single activity.  Every few hours, somebody in the Facebook group will say that they’re really struggling with Unit 7, or just about to give up on maths completely, or feel like they understood maths until one activity made them feel like an utter moron.  Practically without fail, they’re all staring at activity 17 in panic.

When I go from understanding everything well (or well enough) to understanding nothing, I typically assume that I’ve skipped a major step without realising it.  But when nearly everybody has the same experiences, I feel more comfortable thinking that it isn’t just me.  There was either a foundational piece left out, or simply too steep a learning curve.

It highlights the importance of not relying solely on one source for information.  The Open University often seems fanatical in its defence of its material always being individually sufficient and superior to all other sources.  (This is only my opinion from anecdotal observation.)  For example, any suggestion in the official MST-124 forums to check out an external resource on a topic is swiftly refuted by tutors on the course, and original OU materials are reiterated.  Without fail.

In my experience, no one source has all the right answers, and no one way of learning is right for everybody.  When doing assignments, it’s important to prepare them based on the information you’re instructed to peruse.  But for understanding, make sure you find whatever resource you can find that helps you understand.  If there’s something fundamentally different from what’s in the OU materials, it’s an excellent opportunity to open a dialogue with the tutor and gain a considerably deeper understand of the nuances involved in the reasons for the difference.

It took me five. days. to get past activity 17 using OU materials.  It took me about two hours on Khan Academy.  Find what works for you.  Self-reflection on how I learn is one of the most valuable skills I’ve developed so far.

I had temporarily halted all work on TM129 so that I could get back out ahead with MST124.  That’s because after the disaster that was Unit 3 (functions, which should be much easier than MST124 made it), I thought I’d have to work through the Christmas break just to keep my head above water.  As I just finished Unit 6 (differentiation, which was mindbogglingly easy) and TMA02, I have a few days to head back to TM129 and pick up a bit of what I’ve stepped away from.

For MST124, it’s definitely easiest to work on the TMA after each unit to finish up the questions for that unit before carrying onto the next.  I ended up putting a whole tonne of unnecessary graphs in, particularly for vectors.  I thought of vectors as Applied Trigonometry, and thoroughly enjoyed them.  The whole thing came out at 3400 words and 27 pages.  My EMA for TU100 was 3500 words and 16 pages.  Who knew there was so much writing in a maths module?

TM129 is being picked up at the networking block, which is a large portion of my job.  It’s basically asking us to read portions of the Microsoft Windows Networking Essentials book, and then do OU activities around it.  I imagine this to be very, very similar to T216.

I mentioned on a tutorial last week that I’d done a MS computer-based training module for networking essentials about twenty years ago, and I swear there are entire paragraphs in this book which haven’t changed from that CBT in all that time.  I’m really not a fan of MS training.

The tutorial was a fun one.  Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve spoken on the mic extensively in four tutorials (two each from TM129 and MST124), and I’m getting a lot more out of them.  It’s even worth looking a bit stupid in the ones that get recorded.  It often feels as though the tutors come wanting a lot of interaction, but end up reading a slide show because it’s difficult to get much give and take.  It’s much easier with voice chatting than typing messages.

I mentioned last year that trigonometry had been my mathematical Achilles heel until I finally got it smoothed out by Khan Academy in preparation for MST-124.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I’d have to re-invent it every time I saw a triangle.  And it turns out there are a lot of triangles.

I’m now officially on the far side of Unit 4, which is trigonometry.  By the time I opened up TMA02 and saw the trigonometry stuff, I caught myself saying, “Well this is easy!”  And I wasn’t even punished by the maths gods for my hubris!  It felt really great to be so at ease with the concepts in it.  I can no longer blame not properly learning trig for my failures, and will have to admit to not being that bright, instead.

I also finished the iCMA42 for MST-124 (which covers units 2 through 4) with full marks.  I managed to avoid making the silly, silly mistake I did on the last one, by forcing myself to triple check my answers with a calculator if I got confused by anything.  On the other hand, it took me 9 days and 10 hours to complete, so I can’t necessarily use the same techniques when it comes time for the exam.  A two-week exam would be just about right, though.


Even though I’ve put TM129 away for the time being, I had a chance to attend a last-minute online tutorial with my tutor last week.  He’d had a face-to-face scheduled about forty miles away (and about sixty miles from where he lives), and literally nobody signed up for it, so he sent out an email and did it online.

In the end, there were only three of us on it, but it was just him and me chatting by voice for the first fifteen minutes or so.  Obviously, we didn’t cover much of the actual module material, but we talked a lot about TMA strategies and general study skills.  It was good motivation, as well.  I haven’t yet attended any face-to-face tutorials, but am starting to think it could be quite advantageous.  It’d mean an entire evening away from my children, though, and that’s something I want to avoid after my father’s part-time associate degree left us practically feral for four years.

After catching up a bit in TM129 the other week, I figured I was done with everything in the Robotics block except for TMA01, so I might as well get that out of the way.  As it’s due in mid-December, and it’s such a fast module to study, I figured that if I got the TMA out of the way, I could put TM129 on the back burner until January and just concentrate on MST124’s maths.

TM129’s TMA01 is quite uneven.  Question 1 mostly tests if you were paying attention during the block, and could mostly be answered using the search function from the module planner.  It also asks for opinions, but it’d be difficult to get your own opinion wrong, so …

Question 2 is weird.  Parts A and C check your understanding of concepts.  Part B tests maths skills.  And maths skills are not a part of the Learning Objectives for TM129.  Yet part B still took two full pages to answer.

Question 3 is just programming the virtual robot.  It’s completely harmless, but fun.  I stretched my wings a bit and included abstraction techniques, self-commenting code methods, and so forth, none of which is part of the module.  If there’s a possibility of getting points docked for talking too much, I’ll be guilty here, but there are no word count limits for any section but question 4.

Speaking of question 4, it’s a report.  They ask for a lot of things, starting with research, and want you to fit it all into 400 words.  The word limit is a bit of a tall order, but it sets the expectations for scope.  One problem is that the specification asks for something contrary to the supplied context of the question.  I included it, but didn’t state that it was in reference to the specification request, so I may lose one or two points here.  (I think my tutor’s pretty good, though, so I don’t really think I will.)

Question 5 is just attaching the ePortfolio for the robotics block.  Which was awesome and fun to do.  I never imagined I’d love the ePortfolio, but I totally do.  Just do it as it comes, and not when the TMA is due, though.  Some students are already starting to struggle back-filling ePortfolio activities.


My MST124 TMA01 came back today, literally the last day it could.  I feel bad for my tutor, as she’s obviously extremely busy.  There were no comments on any of my work at all, and even though I had made (quite a few) errors on the TMA (though all the answers were correct), I was still given the full 100 marks.  I think it may have been a bit of a last minute rush job, and I’ll probably get that with each of the TMAs in this module.

I suppose that means my style is okay.  I’m just under halfway through TMA02, so it’s nice that I won’t have to retype everything in a different style.

I’ve moved on from Unit 3 (Functions and Logarithms) to Unit 4 (Trigonometry), and it’s a breath of fresh air.  I love functions and logarithms, and think they’re the coolest parts I’ve encountered in maths.  But the MST124 materials for Unit 3 were abysmal.  Nearly every student who didn’t already understand the subject matter abandoned the materials for Khan Academy or any other internet site.

Anyway, I’ve got quite a few weeks just to concentrate on maths, so I’m hoping to make quite a bit of headway getting to the calculus stuff.  Which is what we’re all dreading.


2018/3/9 Edit: I just realised I never posted my results for TM129 TMA01.  I received a 98 on it.  The missing points were for disagreeing with a point on the exclusivity of statistical and symbolic data, and a misunderstanding on which parts of my explanation I agreed and disagreed with.  The comments were very helpful in identifying avenues for deeper learning, but didn’t provide much insight to what is being looked for in assignments.  So it’s a mixed bag.

The modules I’m studying this year, MST124 and TM129, are certainly not balanced.  TM129 is a casual Stage 1 module, and is in the vicinity of an appropriate amount of work for Stage 1.  (It’s definitely a bit more light than I’d have expected, but not outrageously so.)  MST124, on the other hand, does seem lighter than I’d expect from a 60 credit Stage 1 module … but not by much.

My brain isn’t extremely multi-track.  If I can think about one thing at a time, I’m much happier than having to switch back and forth.  For some reason, I’m finding this true with studying over the span of a week.  I’d rather study an entire section of one thing, then an entire section of another, than read a bit from one section one night, then a bit from another the next, then switch back.  It doesn’t get absorbed as well if I’m re-compartmentalising as I go.

For now, I’m going to stick with my initial solution, which is to spend one week on MST124, then the next on TM129.  But this did cause some trouble.  In MST124, Unit 3 took me the full three weeks allotted to it in the study guide for me to get through it.  Actually, three weeks and two nights.  It’s just rough reading.  And I can’t just bail halfway through a unit, or I forget everything.  Reading from a book is just not a good way for me to learn maths, and it’s killing me to try.

Anyhow, now I’ve got to catch up as much as I can in five days in TM129 before switching back, because if I take longer than that, I’m going to fall behind in MST124.  I should hopefully be able to pick up an entire three weeks worth of study guide time in that five days, but it’s not going to be easy.

Studying two 30 credit modules is way more work than studying one 60 credit module.