M347 – Mathematical Statistics – preparing for the exam in the “new normal”

Today I submitted the last assessment ahead of the exam for my tutor to mark in my Mathematical Statistics module. For once, I’m actually on track with my study but it’s not been without difficulty. If you’ve been following my OU journey then you’ll know I work full time and have a family, so dedicated study time can often be a low priority. Up until the second week of March this year1 I had a reasonable routine: I’d spend the two hours I commute Monday to Friday going through the course materials and then this extra maths wouldn’t impact work or home life.

Once we were all working from home I didn’t have that time any more. I was still working 40+ hours a week and, like many others, was suddenly coping with having to educate my daughter for more than twice the time I’d normally spend commuting. Jealously I was seeing posts on social media from my friends “making memories” with their families, while I was working from 6am until 8.30am and then breakfast and school until 1pm then a quick lunch and back to work until after 7pm. By the time I’d had dinner and done some chores, it was approaching midnight and the routine would start again. As a result, for the first four weeks of lockdown, I didn’t do any maths, or really anything else above work and school. I was exhausted. Even with the two days off work due to the Bank Holidays at Easter, motivation and energy were pretty non existent for anything that wasn’t critical. I know I’m not alone in that. It’s taken a while for everyone to adjust to this new normal

6 days worth of sleep and active analysis showing 5-6 hours sleep per day
Good job 6 hours sleep is enough to function 😉 – this is what a working week looks like for me right now.

We got informed the exam would still be happening at the start of June, but it would be released for us to do at home. I had been secretly hoping they would just score us on our coursework so far, but while that would have worked for me, it would not have been fair. In M347, the continuous assessment does not constitute part of your final grade – you only have to submit a proportion of the assignments (13 out of 18) and you only need 30% overall. There are many students who would have skipped some of these and also not put in full effort because they didn’t have to – particularly when “life” gets in the way2.

Once I knew there was an exam still to come, I realised I had to catch up. Two weeks ago I was 7 weeks of study behind. That was going to take a lot of catch up. There was no time in the week, so I have had to give up my weekends. With the exception of the one Saturday when I played World of Warcraft to vent the anger at my neighbours deciding that 8am was an appropriate time to start drilling on our adjoining wall3, Saturdays and Sundays have been catchup time. After breakfast, I’ve shut myself away and ploughed through the study books and the outstanding computer marked assignments, surfacing one an hour for a cup of tea and to stretch my legs. Last night it was midnight by the time I finished, but I was too stubborn to stop until I’d got to the end of the chapter so I could do the final assignment today.

It’s not been easy but I’ve had help. My daughter is old enough now that she can keep herself occupied and both she and my husband have taken their share of the housework. If we weren’t in lockdown I wouldn’t have left the house any way to catch up, but I do feel I’ve missed out on some of the fun, family time, particularly at the weekends. But this is, like the lockdown itself, short term sacrifice for a bigger goal.

Progress bar for M347 showing 92% completed.
One chapter and exam revision to go!

This afternoon, I submitted the last assignment and it feels good. I have one more chapter to go and the revision, but I’m on track for the first time since this course started and for the first time at this point of the year for any of the modules! I can only hope the exam goes as well.

If you’re finding yourself struggling while studying remotely, reach out to your fellow students on forums, on social media. There are virtual study groups being organised. Your tutors are still there to help you. Keep focussed on why you started these courses. You’ve got this.

  1. If you’re reading this in the future and don’t know what happened worldwide at the start of 2020 then this blog has either persisted far longer than I though or there was worse to come!
  2. There is a cautionary tale here though to treat all assessments as “real” at all levels, just in case anything like this ever happens again!
  3. Don’t be afraid to take some time for “you” to relax otherwise you won’t study effectively.

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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.