maths study via The Open University

Archive for October, 2010

Exam time

Ok, so…. exam.

Well, I can honestly say I’ve never studied so hard for anything in my life. Work gave me a week off prior to Wednesday the thirteenth – unpaid, as I’d used up all my holidays (fair enough, I suppose) – and I began to consolidate my prior learning.

A couple of thoughts.

The past exam papers may feel impenetrable at first revision but, let’s be realistic, we’ve squeezed about 900 pages of learning into an 8 month course, so it’s hardly surprising when you look back at, say, the linear algebra and think: “hmmm, did I even cover that first time round?”

I started going back through the course material from book one onwards – the idea being skim, and skim some more until I hit a topic/example/exercise I couldn’t do.

That was the strategy at one month out from the exam. By the time I got to Group Theory 3, I was very bored of that approach.

Strike approach and implement new system.

New approach – just do the past papers. I got 2003-2009’s papers – the earlier ones from the course forum, the later one’s through OUSA. I also bought the Black Badge solutions booklet (which is highly recommended but did contain a few mistakes).

Do section one. Aim for 2 hours. Stop. Go back through answers.
Do two questions from section two. Aim for one hour. Stop. Go back through answers.
Look up stuff that I had to miss out – make separate notes on A4.

That was my approach at 2 nights per past paper.

Doing that for the 7 past papers took, obviously enough, 14 days.

I am now at one week out from exam.

Take week off work.

Order in strong coffee. Increase cigarette consumption.

New strategy: pick random question from random paper. Aim to complete in 10 mins for part one question, or 30 mins for part two question. (You won’t remember the answers from doing them previously – the idea is that you remember the method).

I did this for three days.

Now four days from exam.

New strategy – actually look at the specimen paper.

Hmm, it’s harder than the past papers. Put this down to OU strategy.

Takes half a day at a leisurely pace. Frequent coffee.

3.5 days out.

Take a serious look through ALL past papers and specimen paper.

Decide which things I may have trouble with – method, etc.

Begin to write examples into handbook. (As it turned out, I only had time to look at one of them in the exam).

I wrote about 10 examples in, I think, of which about half were things I was pretty okay with anyway.

Net result – very little extra ink in handbook.

Now 3 days out and raging cold/flu. I can’t actually breathe. Hmmm. Not so good.

Strategy for next 3 days – skim every question of every paper and talk the answer. Not write it. Just talk it. Result – 3 papers a day, but am I talking enough detail? Hmm. I think so.

2 days out. Major flu. Major sweats. Feeling quite dizzy.

Turn up heating….

Repeat talking exercise. Seems to work well. 3 past papers done.

One day out: I rise about 3pm, if memory serves me correctly, sweating standing still.

Never mind – exam is here now.

Strategy – skim papers, look for small details I may not address correctly come exam time.

Reach for highlighter pen and highlight common theorems and strategies, in handbook, which crop up at least every second or third year in past papers.

Day of exam. Up at 9am. Do one hour of quick revision. Feel very ill. Go back to bed. Set 2 alarms.

Up at 11am. Shower. Put on suit. Not jeans and jumper.

Makes me feel like I am going to the exam with a purpose (aside from trying to pass it).

Sweating horrendously.

Into exam venue an hour early. Avoid coffee. I seem to be crashing an hour after coffee. Eat some complex carbohydrate food sources to ensure sustained blood glucose level and, hopefully, brain function.

Food makes me sweat even more.

Into exam.

No nerves. No nothing.

It’s like a judgement day waiting room – nothing you can do about it now except give it your best shot.

I am the only one who asks for an extension answers booklet. Then another. People around me appear to have finished after 2.5 – 2.75 hours.

I, however, am writing like the clappers.

Glance at clock. 15 mins to go. One whole part two question to go and half of one single part one question to go.

I have my hand up for ages for a new answer booklet. I cough politely. The student sat next to me doing, I think, law, is smiling.

He can sense my frustration.

Invigilator ambles over. I am willing her to teleport. Get new answer booklet.

Time pressure gets to me. The faster I write the more I have to cross out.




Time’s up. I have answered 90 out of 100 marks of questions and my final answer looks like a 10-year-old wrote it. Scribble, cross out, scribble, cross out, write in massive writing for some reason.


Will I get 85 marks and, hence, a distinction?

Tall order.

Prediction is that it will be close – either a tight pass one or just dropping into pass two territory.

Home. Bed. Feel really ill.

Net advice? Past papers, past papers, past papers, specimen paper, then repeat.

Summary of course – brilliant. Loved it. Everything about it. Even the exam.

Pain? Sometimes.
Worth it? Yes.

Next courses: MST209 and M248 in February. Possibly DB234 later in the academic year, though I doubt I’ll have the time.

Currently doing: getting a 3 month headstart in MST209 (material free on OpenLearn) and doing the IMC qualification for banking, which appears very very easy compared to M208 study.

Have also downloaded several gigabytes of ODE and PDE lecture materials from iTunes U for free.

OCAS at the moment: 91% or 92%. Can’t remember now. 🙂
Need 85% from exam for first class pass.
Or 70%-84% for second class pass (2.1 in conventional speak).

Next post will, most likely, come after the exam results are in.

Now, back to MIT’s ODEs….