maths study via The Open University

Erm, what just happened?

Caveat: these are my thoughts and, as such, are not representative of other students or body of students.

    Not loving today’s paper.

    Not a train-wreck but not exactly an easy paper.

    Which leads to the question: “Was it difficult?”

    Which is hard to answer.

    Because it was unusual.

    The part one was definitely tougher than previous years, with a lot more working out required, and one or two odd-ball questions.

    The part two questions were possibly on a par with previous part twos, though two gave me some trouble so got left until the end.

    But time elapsed before I got back to them, so that was 10 marks gone from the possible 115.

    Part three. Hmm. Totally different style. Bitty questions. Lots of physics. Not so much maths.
    I stuffed up one part of one of them – realising my mistake as I was on the way home.

    Some on the forum found the paper pretty ok, some found it tough. I’m not aware of anyone who thought it was easy.

    Some at the exam centre weren’t confident of any grade of pass, though I truly hope they do fine.

    It was, it seems, one of those papers where it’s quite hard to predict your score.

    But I’ll have a go anyway. I reckon I got somewhere in the 80s. Pass grade one or pass grade two? I truly have no idea.

    I’d have preferred a paper whose part three questions more closely resembled the format of the previous years.

    Still, I get what I get. I did my best against a bit of a curveball, and I’m the best I can be right now (to quote Tom Platz).

    I hope my fellow MST209ers reading this blog did okay in the exam.

    And to those reading with a view to doing MST209 next year – be prepared for a bit of a “what… erm… right…” moment when you buy and download the 2011 paper for revision a year from now.

    And two notes to myself:

    1) bring enough money for parking next time. £5.50s-worth.
    2) practise on wide-lined lined paper not blank, or narrow-lined.

    Off to have a nosey around the course forums for my two level 3 business modules, which kind of start today. I see one of my tutors is in Northern Ireland. That should make travel to tutorials interesting. 🙂

    Now, the burning question: SM358 and MS324, just SM358, just MS324, or bottle it in February next year?

6 responses

  1. Tiernan


    many thanks for a fantastic blog. I’m still getting over the shock of my first OU exam (MS221) yesterday and can only guess at the aftermath of MST 209.

    I have been reading your blog with a mixture of hope and horror as I’m taking M208 and MST209 in parallel next year; I’ve ditched the day job as I know the courses will obey both Parkinson’s and Sod’s Law without exception 🙂

    I’ve taken the hint to start my prep now for the oncoming deluge in February. I’ve just ordered “A First Course in Mathematical Analysis”
    by David Brannan as a prep for M208 and will take a look at the MIT videos on linear algebra and differential eqns for MST 209. Any advice would be welcome.

    Best of luck with the results.


    October 18, 2011 at 4:36 PM

    • Hi Tiernan,
      Many thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you like my rambling blog.
      I’m aware of a few people who have successfully managed M208 and MST209 concurrently this year, so it’s definitely doable.
      Having done both, in separate years, I’m firmly of the opinion that MST209 requires much more time, is conceptually more challenging, is so broad that the exam is a bit of a lottery, and has a tougher exam as a consequence.
      My step up from MS221 to M208 wasn’t that steep compared with the leap from no maths to MST121 and MS221 taken together.
      I got 77% in the MS221 exam, but 90% in the M208 exam, if that’s any indicator to you.
      MST209 is hard to draw comparisons with, however, mainly because of its sheer size. An A level in physics would be hugely helpful (obviously), as would good prior knowledge of differential equations. I had neither.
      Time was my main opponent for MST209’s TMAs – so much reading material. I managed 99% overall for the assignment side as the material isn’t mega-difficult when you have all the course notes to hand.
      However, the huge range of topics was, I guess, my main problem today in the exam element of MST209. What I did do, I think I did reasonably well (aside from a bit of a part three question and a few part one questions, now I’ve read the course forum and seen other people’s analyses of how to answer the questions). I’m now of the opinion I’ll get in the low 80s, so a pass two overall.
      Based on my experiences, if I was doing M208 and MST209 concurrently, I’d say the time-weighting for study would be in the ratio 40:60 (or 2:3 for anyone who insists on cancelling ratios down. :-))
      Good luck with both – Brannan, the first M208 group theory block, MIT’s linear algebra with Gilbert Strang, MIT’s multivariable calculus with Denis Auroux, and MIT’s differential equations with Arthur Mattuck cover much of the two courses.

      PS. How did you find the MS221 exam?

      October 18, 2011 at 7:52 PM

      • Tiernan

        The MS221 exam did not deviate too much from the format of the past papers. The Part I questions were not too bad with one or two exceptions – choosing between three graphs for a matrix iteration that all looked correct was worrying. Thankfully I was able to avoid the ‘sure bet’ questions on conics and calculus in Part II – the calculus question just had too many words and not enough formulae! The shape of the symmetry question was not too abstract and while the other alternative was on straightforward matrix algebra.

        Its my first exam in 20 years so I dare not say more than I should have passed it with something to spare. Ignorance of how OCAS and OES are determined (I thought their average formed the final mark until yesterday) ensured a good night’s sleep before the big day.

        Many thanks again for the help. Have the popcorn ready to enjoy the latest blockbusters from MIT.


        October 19, 2011 at 3:08 PM

  2. Chris Finlay

    They should have at least given some warning that they were changing the Format of the paper. Still you seem to have done OK so well done.

    As for your choice it’s obvious, M324 and SM358 you will ace them doing 1 past paper from MS324 now the first question was an inhomogeneous second order differentlal equation so thats 15 marks in the bag already.

    OK it may be slightly easy the year I downloaded was 2008 the three questions in Part 3
    seem no more difficult than the problems in the book on Partial Differential Equations for Engineers you reccomended Indeed I would argue that it covers more ground than MS324 does so you should have no problem.

    Anyway once again Well done.

    October 18, 2011 at 6:17 PM

  3. Hi Chris,
    Having looked at the MST209 forum this afternoon, where some of the answers are broken down by students, I think I’m more likely to end up in the low 80s, and get a pass two.
    Some students are annoyed by today’s exam.
    I’m not.
    But I am irritated by my decision to do only past papers as revision.
    Stupid, stupid, ….
    Quite a few of my “bankers”, which have been present on nearly all, if not all, past papers weren’t on the paper today.
    And I felt it was physics-heavy with less maths than usual.
    It has knocked my confidence somewhat.

    October 18, 2011 at 8:00 PM

  4. Hi Tiernan,
    It sounds like the MS221 exam went ok for you. 🙂
    It was also my first exam in 20+ years when I took it – bit of a shock to the system for me, especially having to be quiet in the exam, since I often talk out loud when working on maths problems. 🙂
    Feel free to give me a shout if you find any of the MST209 or M208 concepts a struggle when you start the prep early, since you won’t have a tutor to call upon until late Jan at the earliest.
    One good thing with the OU stuff is that it tends to stick in your mind.
    And good luck on results day.
    PS – the OCAS/OES rule where the average is ruled out is a bit of a surprise when you first find out, isn’t it? 🙂

    October 19, 2011 at 5:35 PM

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