MST210 Study focus and time management

Not an exciting image - just the view sat on the floor of a train
Sometimes, you just have to sit on the floor to get stuff done…

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I start off with good intentions for my OU modules and then finding myself rushing TMAs, skipping a lot of the text and generally revising the day before the exam. While I’ve got away with this so far, it is getting harder to get the scores I want and I knew going into MST210 that my focus and time management would need to improve to take this seriously.

One of the things I took into account when doing this module was the amount of time I spend commuting. Working in London I have a train journey of between 30 mins and 1 hour 15 (depending on whether I travel in rush hour or not) and a tube journey of 27 minutes (fortunately on a single line) in each direction, so at a minimum I have 2 hours on public transport in four good half hour blocks. That’s 10 hours study time a week, which should be sufficient1.

I’m getting a head start on MST210 as with previous modules I’ve fallen behind due to work commitments and I don’t want to impact my family time playing catch up as I did last year. I’ve done one full week and completed book A unit 1. This is on par with the pace that the study calendar sets2 and I have made notes on all the examples and done every single exercise in the unit.

Keeping focus has been really hard. It’s really easy when you’re on a train at 6.30am to sip coffee and stare out of the window as you wake up gradually. It’s so easy when you get on a train or tube and have to stand to just leave my surface and book in my rucksac and play Peak on my phone. It takes no effort after a day at work to grab a gin and tonic and read my Kindle. What is hard is having that focus and discipline to make every minute count – every minute I spend geting ahead now is a minute I can spend having fun with my family rather than having to isolate myself to rush that TMA. It seems like a no-brainer, but humans do tend to make short-term decisions at the expense of long-term success . One of the best things we can do to overcome how our brains work is have a routine and stick to it3.

This is what I’ve been doing – every morning and evening, I’ve forced myself to get my MST210 books out, not only when I’m actually on the train/tube, but also while waiting for them – I keep them in my hands while changing trains; if I don’t put them away, then there isn’t the effort to get them out again. If I need to sit on the floor of a train so I can write, then that’s what I do. This focus has taken a lot of effort and I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s automatic, nor indeed what will happen when my routine changes due to business travel.

However, backed by the science that our brains are dumb enough to make bad short term decisions even if we are aware of the long term consequences, I know that the focus I need is entirely in my own control and if I stick to the routine long enough, it will become the go-to task for my selfish limbic system.

MST210 – mathematical modelling – registered

MST210 - mathematical modelling is fun )
MST210 – mathematical modelling is fun )

Today, after a lot of pondering I finally signed up for MST210 to start in October.  This is the second 60 point module and, just like M208, is mandatory on the BSc Maths pathway.  I’d been holding back for a number of reasons and reviewing my post from last year, I realised that nothing had changed.  If anything my job is now more mathematically demanding as I dig deeper into the bleeding edge internals of machine learning.  My 3D printer is nearly finished and my daily commute is now 3 hours a day, giving me 2 hours a day sitting on trains.  That time is currently occupied with getting through a ridiculous amount of books1.  What I really want to avoid with MST210 is some of the rushing that I did for M208 – I want to enjoy this module. Continue reading MST210 – mathematical modelling – registered

OU Maths – halfway review

Halfway through (Q31 course image (c) Open University
Halfway through (Q31 course image (c) Open University

Well it’s been 3 years and I’m halfway through the Maths degree I started “for fun” because I needed some mental stimulation that I just wasn’t getting in my work at the time. 3 companies later and I’ve got the challenge I was craving, and since the results of the last two modules are now out, it seems like a good time to review my experiences with the OU. Continue reading OU Maths – halfway review

M208 – revising in 2 days

Cover sheets of two past papers - you're not missing anything by not loading this image
Two of the 5 M208 past papers I did…

Last week I took the exam for the level 2 Open University module M208 (Pure Mathematics).  Just like last year with MS221, I’d not studied as much as I wanted, and had given myself two clear days before the exam to “cram” as much as possible and hope for the best.  I want to make it very clear that this is a really poor strategy for any student wanting to revise and please with you not to copy this method! Continue reading M208 – revising in 2 days

Rushed TMA – not my finest hour

Studying on a train
How I started the course…

It’s probably not a huge surprise that with a lowering of tweets and posts on this blog that I’ve been pretty busy.  Today I got the results back from my second rushed TMA and I’m disappointed, but I’ve nobody to blame but myself.

The OU is pretty clear that you should study about 16 hours a week for a 60 point module and about 8 for a 30 point module.  As I’m doing M208 (60 points) and DB123 (30 points)  this means 24 hours of study alongside a (very) full time job.  Given my love for maths and the ease with which I do pick it up, I got away with less than half the recommended time and still got distinctions for the level 1 modules I’ve done so far. Continue reading Rushed TMA – not my finest hour

Getting ready for M208 and DB123

M208 workbooks
M208 study materials for the next year…

It’s that time of the year again.  Twitter is full of people posting images of all their books for new OU modules with excitement ahead of the October starts.  I was no exception with M208 and DB123  both on the cards for this year.

This year means the start of level 2 modules with M208 Pure Mathematics, which is a 60 point module (the equivalent of a half a normal university year) but also the 30 point DB123 Personal Finance as I had to complete level 1 in parallel if I was to start level 2 this year1.  So, in addition to a full time job at a start up company2 I am also doing the equivalent of 3/4 full time on a university course. Continue reading Getting ready for M208 and DB123

Studying Maths – decisions on level 2

M208 text book for maths level 2
M208 – people of a certain age will look at these text books and think blockbusters…

At the weekend I signed up for my next maths modules with the Open University.  I’ve got three distinctions in the level 1 modules and, aside from my severe annoyance with being forced to do a level 1 module I’m not interested in as “punishment” for skipping the easy start module1,  I was desperate to do the next module.  However, I dragged my heels this time. Continue reading Studying Maths – decisions on level 2

MS221: Illidan was wrong

Illidan defeated, I was prepared :)
Illidan defeated, I was prepared 🙂

So the results are starting to come out for the OU exams taken in June.  Those who were on their last module have got their final degree classification and for the rest of us we’re getting our individual module scores.  Despite not being due for another 8 days, the results for MS221 came out today.

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I really hadn’t focused on studying for this module as much as I should and, with a new role taking up my time in the evenings and weekends I just hadn’t revised as much as I should have done.  I even took my text books to the ReWork DL conference in Boston but only opened them briefly on the plane on the return flight. So how did I do?

Continue reading MS221: Illidan was wrong

MS221 – was Illidan right?

So, a few days ago I tweeted that I had this snippet from World of Warcraft going round my head where Illidan taunted that we weren’t prepared for what awaited us.  It was how I felt going into MS2211 and now that I’ve done the exam I wanted to reflect on why I’d ended up feeling unprepared for a test in a subject I am very enthusiastic about for a degree I’m doing for no direct gain other than for the fun of learning.

I started this degree back in 2013 because I was intellectually unstimulated in my job.  I was busy, spinning many plates and wasn’t bored, but there just wasn’t anything to do that really set my neurons firing.  I’d started the process of looking for another job for a whole host of reasons I won’t go into, but I could feel my brain getting “comfortable” at not having to think much beyond which of my team needed to do which task in what order in response to changing priorities.  So I signed up to do the maths degree I’d always wished I’d done. Continue reading MS221 – was Illidan right?

Preparation for MS221

So – I’m approaching the end of my third OU module, MS2211, and the exam is in a few days.  I missed all the local revision tutorials through being away with work2 and, despite some good intentions, I am woefully behind.  Consider this a crammer’s guide for learning university level mathematics in 3 and a half days 😉3.

MS221 consists of four blocks: block A covering sequences, conics and geometry; block B covering iteration and matrices; block C covering more complex4 integration and differentiation and Taylor Polynomials; and block D covering complex numbers, number theory, groups and logic and reasoning5.  The exam allows an annotated handbook and so it is fairly easy to prepare given a few days of dedicated effort, which (if you’re reading this in time, may help6. Continue reading Preparation for MS221