Using exam panic as revision fuel

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.


  1. Hi Mark,
    the past papers comment definitely holds for the stats modules (M248)- everything is in the handbook (which can not be annotated) it’s just getting up to speed and a big case of RTFQ! (Very easy to misread the question). I may see you on M257 as I have decided that 1 exam and 2 EMA is far preferable to 2 exams in a year – M249/M255/M257 is current plan rather than M249/M250 for Oct 2019.

    1. Hello again Ian! Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier, but between revision and a(nother) tough last week in May, I’ve been dealing with tension headaches in every free moment.
      Yes, RTFQ is certainly my weak spot this time around! Several times I’ve marked my own papers just on the edge of a distinction to have someone else point out that while my code is very impressive, it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
      Next year sounds like quite a crunch, with or without two exams!

  2. Hi Mark, I’ve been really enjoying reading your blogs as you seem to be a year in front of me so its good preparation!

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