Archive for May, 2009


I’ve somehow managed another 99%, hooray! It’s a welcome confidence-boost, since my M257 revision isn’t going particularly well at the moment. I’ve been doing the last couple of past papers this week, and although I’m not making any huge mistakes, I get the feeling that I just don’t understand the subject matter well enough to do a good job in the exam. It’s mainly the “explain/describe” questions that are the problem; if only the whole exam was made up of “write some code” questions!

The Part 1 questions for the previous Java course, M255, were much easier – the same kind of subjects, but they were multiple choice questions, so I didn’t have to worry about wording my answers coherently. Still, I suppose I can’t expect to be coddled with tick-the-box questions all the way through my OU career!

The other problem I’m having with the past papers is much more easily solved – writer’s cramp! My hand aches like crazy after a couple of pages of writing at the moment, so I’m going to have to build the muscles up a lot over the next couple of weeks. So far I’ve been doing most of my M257 notes on the computer, but I’m going to switch to paper note-taking for this last stretch of revision. A bit wasteful in terms of paper, I suppose, but hopefully it’ll prevent my hand from seizing up like a claw halfway through the exam!

Well done, S104 students!

Alex completed his gargantuan final iCMA for S104 yesterday, so a big congratulations to him and to all the other S104 students who are wrapping up iCMA49 and the ECA this week! From an outsider’s perspective, S104 seems pretty gruelling for a Level 1 course, and I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who has successfully tackled it.

I think the main difference between S104 and the Level 1 courses I did (MST121 and M150) is the huge range of different topics you have to cover in S104. Alex and his fellow students had to get to grips with everything from environmental science to chemistry to quantum physics – I think it’s great to get an overview of how the various fields are connected, but unfortunately it means that most students will end up slogging through at least one topic that they have absolutely no interest in. For Alex it was geology, but I’m sure there were plenty of students who detested his beloved astronomy/physics units!

Anyway, we’re now a one-student household (at least until September, when he’ll be starting S151), so I’ll be keeping Alex busy with lots of housework, gardening, and making cups of tea, while I get on with my M257 revision. Honestly, these non-students are so lazy! 😉

I started my M257 revision last weekend by doing a couple of the past papers available from the OUSA shop, and although I think I would have managed a Pass 2 or 3 in each case, doing the papers highlighted some substantial problem areas. My main weakness seems to be that although I’ve got a good grasp of the details of various classes and methods, I don’t have a solid understanding of the big picture; I have a bit of trouble explaining how all the smaller parts fit together, and why certain aspects of Java are the way they are.

In particular, my answers about Units 8, 9 and 10 were quite shaky, so this week I’ve been focusing on Unit 8, which is the one about threads. I’ve been writing a kind of “beginner’s guide” to the topic, which is aimed at an intelligent non-expert reader, so that I’m forced to explain both the details and the background, hopefully in a way that makes sense! So far this approach is working quite well, and I certainly feel like I understand threads better now that I’ve gone through the process of explaining it methodically to my hypothetical newbie reader.

I’m a big fan of the idea that teaching is a good way to cement your understanding of a topic, and I often use Alex as a kind of sounding board, to evaluate my understanding of the material I’m studying; if I can’t convince him that what I’m explaining makes sense, then I’m probably not explaining it or grasping it properly. And quite often, I’ll have a flash of insight about a topic right in the middle of trying to describe it to Alex – the process of putting my knowledge into words and trying to structure it coherently seems to work wonders. So I would definitely recommend writing some kind of newbie guide, or if possible doing a mini-presentation on whatever you’re revising, if you can find a willing guinea pig audience!

I had the house to myself yesterday, so I decided to take advantage of the solitude and have a go at the October 2007 past paper for M257. I’ve been doing a bit of light Java practice using the exercises on JavaBat, but apart from that I haven’t done any actual revision for M257 so far; I like to use the first past paper as a kind of diagnostic tool, to highlight which areas I really need to work on, and which I can already handle without doing specific revision.
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I’m kind of taking it slowly this week, in preparation for the M257 revision marathon that I’m planning on starting on Friday, but I’ve been dipping my toes back into calculus a bit by making a start on Chapter C1 of MS221, which is about differentiation. Now, calculus is something I had trouble with in MST121, so I’ve not really been looking forward to Block C; on the other hand, I feel like I’ve got unfinished business with calculus since I didn’t get a good grasp of it the first time I encountered it, so despite my uneasiness about the topic, I’m determined to do a good job of it this time!
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