MST210 – Lack of routine has consequences

After the lack of focus I’d had studying for M208, I was adamant that with MST210 I’d get into a routine and stay on top of the work regardless of what else life through at me.  This worked pretty well in October and November.  I did the work during my commutes, approximately 3-4 hours a day, even if I had to sit on the floor of a train carriage or find a dusty corner of Paddington while waiting for a delayed train.  All was going well.  At the end of November I began the process of changing jobs and, because of the nature of my work, was put on garden leave for three months.  Suddenly I wasn’t confined on trains for about one seventh of every weekday.  This is where my whole routine broke down. Continue reading MST210 – Lack of routine has consequences

Using OneNote for Open University TMAs

Image from windowscentral.com.

I get a lot of attention when using my surface for note taking at work, studying on the tube or train and during OU tutorials, making full use of multiple notebooks, tabs and pages in OneNote.  I’ve written before about using the surface but following a discussion after my most recent tutorial I realised I hadn’t covered the way I use it along side the OU’s electronic TMA submission process1.  A lot of people on the same maths course as I am tend to use \LaTeX and typeset their marked assignments.  While I am a great fan of \LaTeX and appreciate how clear this is for the tutors to mark, I have always preferred to hand write assignments.  While there is some aspect of writing by hand helping to cement ideas more than those typewritten, the main reason I prefer to handwrite is that the exam is handwritten.  If I don’t force myself into regular, neat mathematical writing then it’s easy to make mistakes in the time pressure of the exam.  Simple things like forgetting to underline vector or matrix definitions can cost marks and if the examiner can’t distinguish a 0 from a 6 then you’re going to be in trouble! Continue reading Using OneNote for Open University TMAs

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

Surface Pro: how I use it – a review

Surface Pro 3I first used the Surface Pro 3 on my trip to Boston to take notes at ReWorkDL rather than scribbling on bits of paper or taking a full laptop and found it to be a great replacement for an A4 notebook, but didn’t really use it to its full potential.  At the start of November, I joined a new company and I’ve been using the Surface exclusively for all my note taking, as well as for studying for my OU Maths modules.

With the recent release of the Surface 4, there may be people wondering if they’re worth it, and what use they’d get out of it.  There are plenty of technical reviews around so I’d suggest using those as a starting point, and if you’re headed out to the sales, you might find my experiences helpful.   Continue reading Surface Pro: how I use it – a review

Studying by train

Studying on a train
Studying on a train is fun 🙂

The new OU term started on the 3rd October, but I’ve been working on M208 for four weeks now (although am yet to really do much other than skim through the introduction for DB123).  I had a grand plan of confining my studies to the time I spent commuting by train and tutorials as I knew that I would have very little time outside of these short windows to dedicate.  So how have the past 4 weeks gone? Continue reading Studying by train

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