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.

The first year was easy – two 30 point modules, one starting in October (MST121) and the other in February (M140).  As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t do much and breezed through these.   MST121 was a module on its way out1 and this was easy to see – the whole course was very traditional.  This suited my learning style, and my tutor’s style of teaching was also a great fit for me.  It was on the back of this that I decided to start the second module the following February.  M140 was completely different – tutorials were more discussion based and the single book for the course seemed very basic.  I already knew the subject so this wasn’t really a problem, but the way in which the course was taught didn’t suit me.  I finished the first year with two distinctions and thoroughly impressed with the OU as an academic institution.

For the second year I intended to do the same – start one module in October and another in February.  I took the next compulsory module MS221 (now also replaced) and was delighted to discover that not only was this the same style of course as MST121, but that it was the same tutor and several of the same tutor group.  By December 2014 I felt that I could start another 30 point module and looked for January starts.  Sadly there was nothing I was really interested in – there is a limited choice of level 1 30 point modules and most of them are October starts, so I decided not to worry about it.  I spoke to my tutor who advised me that I should be able to pick up an extra 30 point level 3 module instead2.  So I didn’t worry.  I changed jobs in early 2015 and was glad I was only doing the one module.  Even during my revision day I had to take work calls and emails, so I was pleased when I got a distinction.

So two years elapsed and 90 points gained.  I should have been at 120 points by this point, but had skipped the easy start module for Maths (at the time MU123, but I believe with the restructure this isn’t an option).  During the Summer of 2015, work was really getting hard – I’d pulled a few 80 hour weeks with some pretty unfeasible deadlines pulled out of the bag and wasn’t getting satisfaction from it.  I was really torn whether I should start level 2 or not due to the hours I was putting in.  In the end, the 2 hours commuting per day and the lack of any positivity from my day job swung it – I’d start the first mandatory level 2 60 point module (M208).

When it came to September 2015 and signing up, I was already searching for another role, yet discovered that moving on to level 2 was not as easy as I’d hoped.  The online enrolment was forcing me to finish level 1 before I could start level 2 – so I had a choice of 90 points this year or just 30 and mait another full year before I could start M208.  This also meant that I had to do a module that didn’t interest me rather than an extra level 3 module when the time came.  I understand why the OU did this as it ensures a level playing field for everyone rather than allowing students to take too many modules of the wrong level.  I was so annoyed by this that I signed up for both3.  I knew I would be changing jobs as soon as I could and was hoping for a better work-life balance…  I chose DB123 as this has been recommended by one of my tutor group from M140 who was on a similar path.

The third year started well enough, I studied on the train (only M208) morning and evening although I had problems with the tutorials which we alternating 2 hours, which didn’t seem enough, and 5 hour “day schools” which seemed too much.  The tutor was fantastic and again, this suited my style of learning.  For DB123, I wasn’t as comfortable.  The material itself was interesting enough, although I disliked the essay based assignments – they were far too subjective for me.  I like maths because it’s logical and clear to see correct or incorrect results.  In my DB123 assignments, I couldn’t categorise where I’d lost marks.  The tutorials were too discussion based for my liking4.  I quickly lost interest in the module, doing the bare minimum to finish the assignments and even the EMA.  After some self-frustration, my ever logical husband pointed out that this was just a case of making up 30 poins and it didn’t count for my overall degree so not to stress.  So I didn’t :).

M208 was harder than I expected and I did have to step up.  My new job involved a lot of travel, so I frequently did assignments on long haul flights or the Eurostar, and this worked, although I had to get extensions for more of them than I liked.  Leading up to the exam, my work became very hectic and April and May were practically written off.  I revised for the exam in 2.5 days by doing past exam papers back to back.  It worked for me and I have a distinction at level 2.  My DB123 result was a level 2 pass  – I knew I wasn’t going to get a distinction so had given up trying by the time the EMA came around.

I’m absolutely loving the OU and would completely recommend it to anyone looking to take a course, whether full time or part time.  It’s great value and you study when it suits you, whether that’s during the day, in your commute, after the kids have gone to sleep or a combination!

So I now have half a maths degree with 180 points.  The next module on the pathway is MST210 and is another 60 point module.  While my role is changing at work5 I’m back to the indecisive point of whether it’s worth pushing myself for another year or taking it slower.  I have until just after birthday to decide…

  1.   Now replaced with MST124
  2.   Which turned out to be old advice sadly
  3.   This is how my mind works, the more annoyed I am the more I take on just to prove a point, it’s something I have overcome in my professional life, but less so on the personal side
  4.   Not surprising as this is a social science module
  5.   More on that soon!

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.