Updated March 28, 2006

   these are NOT official Open University Web pages   


One student's personal experience as a part of:

      Development Studies:
Human, Community and Environmental

Advice for studying, completing TMAs, and Writing Exams

Some general advice:  
How I Studied

I budgeted time four days/nights a week for one-three hours each of those days for reading and homework (but please note that I read REALLY fast). I usually studied Sunday - Wednesday nights, so that I could have Thursday - Saturday nights off. Each course had a two-week vacation built in, so you should be able to take at least that much time off in a course (I was able to take off three weeks during each course but, again, I read fast).

A key to studying the courses successfully and easily, which I wish I had been told early on, is to really, really concentrate only on two-thirds of the course (some other students have said just half). Do your best to read all of the materials, ofcourse, but pick only those sections that interest you most to intensely study for the exam.

Another key, which I figured out early on: setting goals for each week, each month, and each period between assignments, in terms of what and how many chapters and activities to complete, is the only way to stay on top of this, to not let these courses overwhelm you, and to prevent your finding yourself with a mountain of reading at any particular time. You do not want to get behind in your readings. For me, setting (and meeting) reading goals was also helpful in budgeting time for vacations and special events -- or just down time with a boyfriend and dogs.

Do all of the exercises suggested, even those that are not graded. When you are asked to fill out a chart comparing two things, but it's not something that will be graded, DO IT ANYWAY -- often, these exercises/discussion questions will end up being part of exam questions.

Check OU's First Class Conferences WEEKLY

One of the biggest mistakes OU students make, in my opinion, is not checking OU's online conferences regularly. In fact, I think you should check them on a weekly basis.

These online conferences can be accessed via the OU web site, and you are granted access as soon as your course starts. But you are much better off downloading the free First Class Client software (works on Macs too) and accessing the conferences that way -- First Class offers many more features than the web interface and is much easier to use.

You will automatically become a part of First Class conferences associated with your classes, and the conference that serves your geographic area. In addition, you should search for and join other conferences that might be helpful in your studies, or that just sound interesting to you.

Particularly for students studying remotely, online conferences are essential in successfully completing OU courses. You will be able to interact with other students in your course and particular field of study, as well as students in your geographic area. In lieu of onsite classes, the online conferences will greatly enhance your learning experience and make you feel much more of a part of OU.

I've been a part of the following OU online student conferences (along with those affiliated with my current courses and the MSc in Development Management):

Advice for TMAs and Exams

These are the three things I wish I had known when I started my courses (not sure if it's applicable to other universities, but it's most definitely applicable to OU):

  1. When writing TMAs: quote, quote, quote and quote from the reading materials that are tied to the TMA. Find quotes that demonstrate the point you want to make instead of trying to verbalize the point in your own words. Use quotes more than writing things yourself to demonstrate points. Use your own writing just to tie thoughts together to make a coherent answer to the question. Quotes demonstrate that you have read the material, and that is what you are graded on. No matter how inspired you feel about expressing things in your own words, stick to quoting as much as possible. Except for one course, I've found that the more I quoted, the higher my grade.

  2. "Unpack" the question (this goes for both TMAs and exams). For any special/jargon term that is used in the question, if this term was defined in your materials, quote the definition of the term in the TMA or exam. For instance, if the question is "How does BLAH influence "BLEE." If either "blah" or "blee" are particular terms used in the course, and definitions were offered for them especially, then define them first in your TMA or exam answer, before trying to answer the entire question. You will usually get a higher grade as a result. The only course this didn't apply to for me was T890 (see my course review page for more info on my experience with this course).

  3. When writing exams: throw everything you possibly can from your readings into the answer for a question. Also, put at least one blank page between each of your answers as you go along, so that if you think of something later, you can go back and add it, because you have plenty of room. If you finish and then find that you have key part of the course memorized and haven't shared it in one of your answers, find a way to do so (and if you have put in those blank pages, you will have room to do so). You are better off adding something critical from the course that may not connect very well to the question than to leave it out.

Check the OU web site regularly!

Login to your student home page regularly, and spend time at least every other month exploring the web site. It is amazing what resources you will find on that web site! Online resources are also highlighted in the mailed OU publication Sesame, and in other mailings you will receive. If you are a remote student like me, you will find resources on the web site that will make your life oh-so-much easier.

Take Two Courses at Once?

Unless you are not working at all and don't have kids, I would never recommend taking two OU classes at once -- particularly not post-graduate courses. If you think you can take two at once, then at least start off taking just ONE course, and decide only after that whether you want to attempt two at once later.

Using an Apple Macintosh with OU Courses

Open University currently recognizes officially only the Microsoft operating system on IBM/clones. HOWEVER, I'm on a Macintosh iBook (bought in February 2001) with OS 9.2.2 (yes, that's right, still on 9x) and I haven't had any problems accessing online information and OU's Intranet (on First Class Client). I also took four of the courses as online courses, which meant that I could submit assignments online rather than via postal mail (and this gave me extra time to complete each). It's important if you are on a Mac and are allowed to submit assignments online to name all of your assignments with an appropriate file signature (".doc," ".xls," ".txt", ".rtf", etc.). Also, save "down" -- don't save in the most recent version of say, Microsoft but, rather, the version from 1995. In addition to this web site created by OU students NOT using the MS platform, there is also an excellent forum on the OU intranet for Mac users. However, do be aware that not all courses can be taken via a Macintosh. Check the course description and the Mac forum on OU's Intranet system (via First Class) for more information.

Mental Health

Anyone who says going back to school as an adult is easy is Super Man, Wonder Woman, or delusional. It's hard, particularly if you are taking post graduate classes. You don't just have a life -- you have several lives: work, family, and your own personal time. And now you are going to throw university studies on top of that?! Something's got to give, and it will. Staying up-to-date on your academic reading will come at a price -- probably your personal and family time. You will find yourself saying "no" to dinner invitations, parties, vacations, movies... and it will hurt after a while. Doubts will be raised. Tears will be shed. Time with friends will be sacrificed. You may need to re-evaluate what you are doing every so often. If you need to take a break, take a semester off. And remember that there are always second chances -- if you don't flunk at least one paper, or have to re-sit at least one exam, maybe you really are Super Man, or Super Woman. Also, do your best NOT measure yourself entirely by the performance of other students -- you are not them, and success in the working world, in my experience, has rarely been indicated by a person's university grades.

Also see:

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