This 2019/2020 academic year, I’m going not going to be able wing it. I’m taking three 30 credit modules, which the OU recommends might take from 24 to 27 hours of study a week. Realistically, I read and study slowly, and this is stage 2, so that might be underestimating it. Unfortunately, there’s really not another gap in my schedule that I can maintain for more than a few weeks.

For a few weeks at a time, I’ll be fine with finding extra time here or there, but just to get TMAs out, and possibly exam revision come next May. (May is always insanely busy at work, though, for some reason, so we’ll see.)

I’ve squeezed an extra half hour into my schedule at night, and I have my extra hours on Wednesday back, but I’m just barely in the green zone, now.

Study schedule

SatSunMonTueWedThuFri
20:30 – 23:30 15:00 – 17:00 20:30 – 23:30 20:30 – 23:30 17:00 – 20:00 20:30 – 23:30 20:30 – 23:30
20:30 – 23:30 20:30 – 23:30
3533633

Total: 26 hours

(The OU academic week starts on a Saturday.)

I know that this is the absolute limit of my self discipline. Anything more is just going to crash out. The hours aren’t the best for my brain being active, but my family comes first. So everything has to happen after bedtime, or when the boys are with their grandparents.

I’ve also been able to plan for what the week-by-week looks like, making some assumptions about breaks in the OU’s schedule next year:

M269TM257TT284
Week 614/11 TMA01
Week 94/12 TMA01
Week 1012/12 TMA01

Break 21/12/2019 – 3/1/2020

Week 1530/1 TMA02
Week 1820/2 TMA02
Week 2112/3 TMA03
Week 2325/3 TMA02

Break 11/4 – 17/4

Week 32ExaminationEMAEMA

M269 also has 7 iCMAs throughout the year, but they’ve never caused me to rush in the past. There’s a near miss in weeks 9 and 10, but they’re first TMAs, which tend not to require as much work as later assignments. Finishing two EMAs and revising for an exam all at the same time does seem like a crunch, so I’m glad I’ve got about two months to sort that out, along with studying the final module units.

At some point there will also be a residential / day school for TM257. It will probably be around the Easter break, and there’s an evaluated network configuration task that’s worth 30% of our EMA, and an exam on the day which I think is worth another 30% of the EMA. (I don’t have access to the assessment strategy, yet.) Revising for that might be very, very tight on time, so I hope it goes alright.

I won’t officially have my results back for M250 for another five weeks or so, but the exam question paper’s been released, so I have a pretty good idea of how I did. I’m not 100% sure if I missed one of the sections. I practiced my exact answer to that exact question so many times, that it’s difficult to remember if I actually wrote the answer on the answer book, or am just remembering one of the times I practised it. Note to future self: If you gotta visit the loo, visit the loo. Don’t rush to finish early and decide not to double-check that you’ve answered all the questions.

Anyway, if I answered that question, I’ve definitely got a distinction. If I didn’t, I think that I probably got between 86 and 90 (possibly even 94) marks, and still got a distinction. (I definitely dropped at least two marks, and six if I didn’t answer that one question part.) The worst case scenario is that if I’m very harsh in marking myself, and I assume a few mistakes I didn’t realise on the day (like reversing a greater-than sign, for example), I mark myself an 84, which makes me an edge case that the results team will have to consider. Considering my OCAS is 100, I feel I’d do pretty well in such a circumstance. So it’s a very, very narrow path to me not getting a distinction, but it’s possible, and I guess I’ll see.

How do I feel about the course itself? First, it’s very well laid out. Rather than subdividing every section as much as possible, they break the learning into two-week chunks, and allow the students to manage their time appropriately. This is much better than smaller one-week chunks, as it gave me the ability to focus on my other module (while I was still pretending I cared about it) when I had to without feeling like I was slipping behind.

Having also taken Helsinki University’s MOOC.fi Object Oriented Programming with Java I & II, Harvard’s CS50: Introduction to Computer Science, MIT’s OCW Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Java 6.00.1x, and UBC’s Software Construction: Data Abstraction (we’re going to ignore Microsoft’s shambles of a DEV276x Java offering), I have quite a few OOP study introductions to compare M250 to.

It compares very favourably. Most importantly, this is the most academic offering of the lot, which was surprising with so many universities in that list. However, aside from UBC, the others are all introductory level courses, whereas the OU module is for second year university students who are in the habit of studying. While the Helsinki module is very good at teaching coding skills, and both the Harvard and MIT offerings take the red pill and show the maths and memory calls that make this stuff work, M250 is the best at explaining logically (as opposed to physically) how this stuff works. It borrows the concept of message sends from the Smalltalk programming language to explain how objects interact to form complex code. That one tiny way of looking at objects shifted my entire approach to the OOP paradigm, and it’s much, much more natural for me to use than it was after the previous courses. Whereas before I was following rules I was told to follow, now I’m letting my code communicate using what feel like natural tools. The instruction is absolutely rigid in definitions and boundaries between any two related principles (for instance, between data hiding and encapsulation, between substitutability and polymorphism, etc.), and this gives a much better language for discussion about how and why OOP works.

Previous courses I’ve taken haven’t all been exclussively about the OOP paradigm, but some have. While I’ve been able to use OOP better after each one of them, M250 is the first time that I really feel like I get it. It’s an excellent course, well structured, plainly explained, gives both academic and practical views of the subject in an understandable way, and is fairly assessed (despite finding an impossible question on an OU exam for the second year in a row). It is the exact antithesis of TM254.

Beware that it is not a coding module. It is a module about Object Oriented Programming concepts, and happens to go over how to use Java as an example of how OOP works. If you want a Java coding module, I recommend the excellent MOOC.fi course mentioned above.

Well, that’s another exam in the can. How’d I do? Weeeeell, if the memories of a couple of other people are accurate, then I missed an entire part of the exam. So not extremely well.

The parts of the exam that I did happen to read were, by and large, trickier than the past papers, but I had notes jotted down in my handbook for all but two of the trickier parts. One of the two I think I did alright on. The other … Well, the only people who will have gotten it right will be people who wrote the exact example of that method down in their handbook.

Between last year and this, the OU cut back on the number of exam centres drastically. Instead of driving across town from where I work, they wanted me to drive another 30 miles, to a town with horrible traffic, and a total of about 50 miles from my house. So … No.

I switched centres to one the opposite direction of my work. The downside is that I have to take a whole day off instead of just a few hours from work. The upside is that it’s on the sea front and gorgeous. The downside of that is, of course, I was trapped inside taking an exam and not able to watch it. The upside, though, is that it was miserable weather and I was glad to be missing it. The downsi… Forget it.

Anyway, I took the train (which was 15 minutes late) this time, and brought the following: A few wrapped breakfast pastries, the same boiled sweeties as last time, a water bottle, my handbook (as permitted by the exam arrangements booklet), my wallet (with photo ID), my phone (I get nervous about journeys I have no direct control over so can’t convince myself to leave my phone behind), the exam invite (never necessary or glanced at), some painkillers, and two pens. All in my backpack, which went up against a side wall during the exam.

The painkillers were because I’ve developed tension headaches from revision this year. They start around noon, and get worse until about five or six o’clock, then start to back off. They can be quite bad, and make walking difficult. As I backed my revision off this last week, though, they’ve been fading in intensity. I took some just before the exam as I started to feel one coming on, and it backed it off through the entirety of the exam.

Writing for three hours, I need something I don’t have to grip hard and I don’t need to use pressure for. So I used a gorgeous fountain pen that holds a tonne of ink and glides on paper, and a backup that, well, gets the job done. Both were filled with a waterproof ink just in case I spilled while hydrating. (Note to self: don’t hydrate. I spent the last twenty minutes rushing so I could get out and visit the little students room. The invigilators allow you to have bio-breaks, but they also scare you first with tales of students who were never heard from again. Or something like that. I stopped listening.)

The new venue was much better than the last. In addition to the seafront location, there were posh padded chairs to sit in, and the desks were high enough that I didn’t have to bend in half to write. There were no signs pointing the way for OU students like the last hotel, so I had to argue with the concierge that his directions sucked for two minutes before I finally found the right way. Then I saw others start the same argument with the concierge so I went and grabbed them and led them back. (They did NOT want to start any small talk. Absolute focus.)

I got there just one minute before they opened the doors into the exam hall. There were about eighty exam desks lined up, and sixty or so of them had exams waiting on them. Over two dozen were devoted to M250. I was on the front of a row, which was nice. It gave me more leg room, and I didn’t get nervous seeing people in front of me finishing faster. (The guy behind me took about half the time I did, though, and left.)

On the desk was my exam question paper, a desk record, a plastic clip, a metal paper clip, and an answer book. I was allowed to sign my desk record, but nothing else until the exam started. When it did, I wrote my personal identifier on the answer book, copied the exam number onto it from the desk record, and was off.

I won’t get into specifics for now on the exam, as others still might not have taken it. It threw me a few times, I know I missed marks for at least two sub-parts, and apparently I didn’t see an entire section, but can’t be sure of that until the paper is released in a few days. Regardless of missing that, I’m fairly optimistic for a distinction.

I had to rewrite one method at least three times, and I had to restart another more times than that. It had some very subtly tricky questions. The definitions and prose answers were my weak spot, and I feel confident with my performance on those.

You can’t leave during the last 15 minutes, and I was very close to being done with half an hour to go. I rushed my last two sub-parts, clipped everything together, and left. It felt like I was there for twenty minutes.

If I get a Pass 2, that’s okay. I’m very pleased with my effort level and understanding level this time around. I’ve got another exam next year and two EMAs, so we’ll see how much time I can find to revise for that.

I’m at that magical part of revision where full-blown panic starts to settle in and become normal. Suddenly finding motivation to sit down with my notes isn’t hard. It finds me, instead. No matter where I’m hiding from it. It’s not as bad as with the maths exam last year, because I’m more comfortable in general with the source. But I’m also convinced that means I won’t do as well because I’m not panicking enough to motivate quite enough revision.

Such is my mind. Or lack thereof, because I seem to have lost it somewhere.

Here’s some tips for revising M250 from what I’ve found so far. If you’re not me, then your style of learning probably isn’t mine, making these tips worthless. But they might be adapted to something useful for yourself.

  • Do as many past papers as you can.
    • I’m going to guess this is the top tip of any Open University exam where there have been exams previously. I don’t know what to do about inaugural module presentations … I don’t ever plan on taking another one at the OU as my first was … Well, not a literal disaster, but I’d rather eat my own foot, so somewhere between the two. Anyway, I’ve cut my answer time in half by doing this, and that alone would make it worth it. I’ve also found gaps in my knowledge that I’ve done my best to shore up.
  • Of course, hand-write the exam papers.
  • Start with the oldest past papers.
    • The earlier exams were based on a different structure. There were more questions, but not all of them are relevant to the current exam. So if you cut out the irrelevant ones, the remaining questions are quite a bit easier. So it’s harder to judge if you’ve progressed enough toward the end of revision.
  • Split up the questions.
    • If you don’t do a lot of handwriting (I’m doing it constantly these days just for the pleasure of a gorgeous buttery-smooth fountain pen nib on paper), you’ll want to practise writing for a three-hour stretch a few times. But other than that, it’s hard to find that much time at once in your day, and you can’t just save revision for the weekends. (Or maybe you can. I envy you. And am jealous of you. And probably hate you a little.) Just give yourself one hour per question, and do them when you can squeeze them in. You don’t even need to do them grouped together from the same paper.
  • Transcribe your answers into BlueJ. Or an IDE that’s actually usable.
    • We’re not given the answers (or answer examples) from past papers, but we can get some idea of how well we’ve done by seeing how much has to be changed just to get it to compile. We can also test the code and see if its execution matches the specification. In a few cases, testing can require coding a LOT of “assumed” classes that the code says will be provided in the scenario, but not literally given to the student. Implementing these requisite classes can be their own exercise in revision.
  • Submit your (corrected) answers to the M250 revision forum.
    • Having another set of eyes can help identify blind spots. I’ve had numerous such weaknesses in my code identified, and really help me get a better grasp of what’s possible on the exam.
  • Look over your TMAs and consider treating them as practice exams, too.
    • One thing my tutor has mentioned a few times is that at least one question on the exam for the past few years has borne a striking resemblance to one from the TMAs that year.

If I find anything else is really helping, I’ll come back and add to this later.

One thing I tried that didn’t seem to help was a revision tutorial the other night. It provided one example question for the exam, so that was nice (though I expect I’ll encounter the same one on a past paper in a few days), and there were some multiple-choice questions that highlighted that I haven’t memorised the module materials (there was one question where the answer is literally mentioned once in the assessed materials) … But it wasn’t anything that will help me either on the day, or with the rest of my revision. I’ve typed up notes for the tutorial that puts it into a format which would have made a nice handout, but that’s really about it.

Anyway, my result will be entirely down to my exam score. I got my TMA03 score back, and got the full 100 marks. That also means that my combined OCAS for the module is 100, so I’m very pleased with my effort levels. As always, my tutor provided excellent, insightful notes on how I can progress, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I hope I end up on a third module with him.

Well, despite my misgivings on the course from the terribly written TM254, I’ve finally decided to press forward on Q62 Computing & IT from the Open University. I’ve enrolled about two months later than I normally would, because I was strongly considering switching over to a joint-honours maths degree. I think I’d have to brake too hard to make that turn right now without some serious consequences, so instead I’ll just make some small course corrections.

The first consequence of my decision is that next year is going to be a bit of a crunch. I’m going to tough it out with three modules, to catch up with where I’d have been without dropping TM254. The second (and strongly related) consequence is that I’m enrolling in easier modules related to my current job.

The first module I’ve enrolled for is not going to be easy, but should be fun: M269: Algorithms, data structures, and computability. This is real meat-and-potatoes computer science stuff: Data structures like binary sort trees, search and sort algorithms like bubble sorts, and algorithm efficiency analysis like big O notation. In my pre-university preparation, this is the stuff that’s really lit my mind, kind of like a digital landscape for mathematics. It’s the module in the Computing & IT course that I most wanted to take.

The next is TM257 Cisco networking (CCNA) part 1. The second part of this is a stage 3 module. I’d been contemplating doing the CCNA in my spare time over a summer, but now that I’m crunching three modules into one year, I’m going to take it as an official module now. Many people may find this one rough, and I may be silly for thinking it’ll be different for me, but it’s what I do professionally, and I’ve got a Cisco router in my loft for labbing with. (It should be two, but I’m sure I can use a Netgear to connect to in most instances.)

Finally, I’ll be taking TT284 Web Technologies. This is another big portion of what I do at work, and have a fairly good grounding of HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL, SSL, firewalls, etc. I don’t do much JavaScript yet, but don’t expect to be memorising much for the module. This one is a strong cop-out module for me, but there’s really slim options for modules at stage 2 if you don’t want to take the horror that is TM254.

The best part for my time is that the last two modules have end-of-module assignments, rather than exams. The last two years, I’ve had all of my assignments in from March or earlier to focus on exams. I hope that means that I’ll have enough bandwidth to work on the assignments next year.

There’s a very good chance I’ll regret this, but even if I have to defer, it’s not like it’ll set me back anything but time. With the ridiculous interest students are charged on their loans in the UK these days, it’s not like I’ll ever pay it off either way.

The websites for both M250 and TM254 open on Tuesday, so I’ll have another post later this week, maybe on the weekend, after having a bit of a nose around.  But M250 books arrived a couple of days ago.  My study area had … deteriorated its study-conducive environment … since I finished (or really started) revision this summer, so I decided to tidy it up nice and proper before unboxing my new materials.  Here they are:

M250 materials … and tea

The contents are:

  • Getting started with objects
    • Units 1-5
  • Inheritance and how to program
    • Units 6-8
  • Collections and file I/O
    • Units 9-12
  • Exam Handbook
  • Contents Checklist

In addition to the books, there’s also a module guide and a software guide, which are only available online.  I’m happy to look/read through these books before reading the guides, but I’m not likely to start studying properly until after I at least get the software guide.  I want to know I’m using the correct version of BlueJ (the module’s preferred/required programming IDE) and plugins/software modules.

The Exam Handbook only allows for highlighting for use in the exam, and must be the OU-printed version of the handbook.  So I’ve put that back in the box, slipped it under my monitor tray, and won’t get it out again until the exam.

That’s in contrast to the other books, which are now back in the box under my monitor tray, where I’ll leave them until after the entire module’s over, at which point I’ll toss them in recycling.  I wish the OU would give me a choice of whether or not I want to receive hard-copy materials.  I still have my useless SenseBoard on my desk, not sure if I can ever find any proper use for it.

There’s one book due to be shipped for TM254, but I suspect they missed the shipping date, which is standard procedure for first-run modules: Make certain that everything is behind schedule.  The book being shipped is Project Management for IT-related projects (2nd edn), edited by Bob Hughes.  There’s also an ebook being made available to us (likely on a limited time loan, I’m guessing) for ITIL Lifecycle Essentials by Claire Agutter.  I’ve snooped through this as it’s available to all students through the OU library.  It seems well written, and is thoughtfully laid out, so I don’t think I’ll have any issues with it.

For MST124, I was pleased to see that my exam form wasn’t lost due to the bureaucratic nightmare of exams forms, and I received the expected 98% for the exam.  This OES goes alongside my module OCAS of 99%.

In TM129 the EMA came back at a 97%.  This OES matches quite nicely to my module OCAS of … 97%.

Distinctions in both!  All three Stage 1 modules, really.

Didn’t get much feedback this year.  That’s fine, as I feel pretty confident with the learning outcomes of both modules.


I realised that I didn’t talk much about the TM129 EMA.  It’s not accurate to say that I rushed it, but I did put it to bed pretty darned quickly.  The first part was a Choose-your-own-adventure exam section, where they gave us three questions (one each for Robotics, Networking, and Linux) and we had to answer two of them.  In the interest of time, I chose networking and Linux.

The networking question had two parts: A 400-word essay that pulls its information from a specific article, with other references welcome, and a prose-and-maths description of subnetting a class C IPv4 network.

The Linux question was a single 600-word essay about Internet of Things and embedded device security.  It required the use of a specified article and two other sources to answer specific concerns within the essay.

I used my regular TMA methods for these questions.  I think each one took about two days, though I’d read the main articles several times over a couple of weeks preceding work on the EMA.

The second part was to revise (in the American sense) two ePortfolio articles per block, using feedback from our tutor.  My tutor appeared to love my ePortfolio activities and never offered any suggestions, so I just cut-and-pasted these.  Job done.

And finally, there was a tragic attempt by the OU to prove value-for-money by pretending that TM129 had prepared us for the job market, and asked us to prove it by writing some CV cover-letter dross about a job posting we researched.  I’m a little embarrassed for the module team being asked to create the question, but I understand the market forces that cause it.  I resent market forces impacting my degree almost as much as I resent the notion that the purpose of education is employment, but it is what it is.  Also, I resent the phrase “it is what it is.”

If I had to guess where my marks came off, I’d wager there were one or two taken from the network subnetting part, because I just didn’t have the patience to write down maths for converting binary.  (You want me to show my workings?  I put it into a calculator, like everybody else.  Or sometimes I count in binary on my fingers, like all the other freaks.)  I put the binary into my prose (limited to 100 words), but for “showing my mathematical workings” I just drew a pretty table with a lot of ones and zeroes.  I hope another mark came off because I pasted an entire job ad, which took up two pages.  I don’t think they understand what job postings look like in the Internet age when recruiters don’t have to pay newspapers for inches and ink.

I worked hard on it, but still finished it relatively quickly, and submitted it two-and-a-half months early, so I could concentrate on MST124 revision (in the UK sense).

Anyway, done until October.  I’d normally be doing MOOCs right now, but I may be a bit burned out by the MST124 revision, and other stuff I’ll probably leave in another blog post soon.

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 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.)

Thanks to the quick pace of studying matrices, MST124’s TMA03 was handed in early, putting me a month ahead of schedule in both modules.  I’ve decided to concentrate on just maths revision for the last few months of the academic year, so switched back to TM129 to complete the last block, Linux.

The first few weeks have many inconsistencies, typos, and factual errors, but then the block improves.  Actually, despite working professionally with Linux, I came to enjoy the block.  The materials weren’t personally challenging, but the ePortfolio again provided fun avenues for self-directed learning.  (Bonus: I picked up many tips.)

A minor issue was the ePortfolio back loading.  The ePortfolio works best if you work on it as you go.  This both checks current understanding, and distributes the workload.  The Linux block has small, mundane activities at the beginning, and several large, interesting ones after completing the final week of study.  This results in students crushed with many longer ePortfolio activities, then the final TMA, then the EMA, in consecutive batterings.  I feel the module team may have missed this perspective.

The TMA is also a bit questionable.  Several marks aren’t covered at all in the materials … which isn’t necessarily bad.  Independent research is clearly indicated, but methods of evaluation weren’t discussed, so it’s testing students’ innate ability rather than understanding of the learning objectives.  Some marks probably test checking Linux man pages … an answer does appear in a man page, but not the related page, giving me ambiguous feelings.  One question involves Intellectual Property law, entirely absent from module materials (and learning objectives), which I feel entirely inappropriate given the complexity of IP law.  Difficulty linking assessment questions to learning objectives has been a consistent issue with this presentation of TM129.  (Another question confuses “Linux” with “Ubuntu” …)

I’m already working on the EMA’s notes.  I doubt I’ll complete it this week as hoped, though.  TM129 TMA02 still isn’t back, but I’m hoping for that this week, too.  I hope to switch back to maths while I’m still ahead there.


2018/05/17 Edit: TMA03 for TM129 back: 96%.  As that’s the lowest mark of all TMAs across my modules this year, I’m pretty happy with my effort level.  All four marks came for the same point: My testing strategy for an impossibly complex task with only 400 words wasn’t robust enough.  I feel that this one failure couldn’t possibly have been worth 1/3 of the points of a section that had four subsections, particularly when some parts of my testing were quite good considering the ridiculous word count.  So in this instance, I respectfully disagree with my tutor’s assessment.  There were only 3 marks reasonably at stake for the testing section, and I definitely secured at least one, so my score should have been a 98.  But what’s two marks, especially when it’s the first and only time I’ve had a strong disagreement with a marking?  (As I’ve had initial disagreements with other markings, but come to see them from my tutor’s perspective over time, there’s a very real chance the same will occur with this.)  On the other hand, his feedback was insightful and useful!  And who could ask for more than that from a tutor?