Category: M257: Putting Java to work

I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d ended up with a Pass 2 or Pass 3 for this one, to be honest, so I was very relieved to see that I got 90% for the exam, and 98% for the continuous assessment. I’m so glad it’s a distinction – I was beginning to worry that I’d need to either retake M257 or substitute another course in its place (which would have entailed changing degree programmes, since M257 is compulsory for B14).

Alex’s results for S104 were released today too – he’s managed an awesome 92% for the ECA, and 79% for the continuous assessment. I’m so proud of him, and very relieved as it means that he’s definitely going to carry on studying with the OU in future. I would have been quite sad if we’d gone back to being a single-student household!

Anyway, well done to everyone who got their results through today – I hope you all got the grades you wanted!

M257 wrap-up

Well, the exam was yesterday afternoon, and overall I think it went OK. There were a couple of questions in Part 1 that I hadn’t done enough revision for, but I made a concerted effort to proofread, proofread and proofread some more, so hopefully I’ll have avoided most of the silly errors I made in the practice papers.

With M257 out of the way, I’m now going to be concentrating entirely on MS221 and M366, and the rest of this evening is going to be spent getting reacquainted with differentiation – I’ve missed doing maths so much during these last few weeks, I could almost kiss my course books! (Though that wouldn’t be a great idea hygiene-wise, considering how dusty they are…)

This week I’ve been typing up my attempted solutions for the M257 past papers so that I can post them in the course forum, and I’m really glad I did type them up – I spotted quite a few silly errors in the process of transcribing them! I’m still not hugely confident of my answers, but I thought I’d upload them to the blog as well, in case anyone would find them useful. Here are my attempted solutions for the three past papers:

If you spot any mistakes, please let me know in the comments (although once the exam is over on the 17th I might not be particularly speedy about correcting them!).

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!

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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<a href="">Shakey the Robot</a>, star of M366 Block 2. He might be a bit clunky, but I still think he's great.

Shakey the Robot, star of M366 Block 2. He might be a bit clunky, but I still think he's great.

Today I finally worked up the nerve to submit M366 TMA01, after a good few weeks of tinkering and fiddling with it. I think I’m more nervous than usual about it because M366 is a very different kind of course to the ones I’ve done in the past, so I’ve no idea how badly or well I’ll do. I suspect I’ll get somewhere between 60%-80% for this assignment, but I wouldn’t really be surprised if it turned out to be a low Pass 3; I’m not confident at all about my ability to provide the kind of answers the TMA seemed to be asking for, so I’ll be relieved with anything above 40%!

Speaking of M366, my tutor replied to my email about TMA02 this morning, so I should be able to get that wrapped up tomorrow. It looks like I might have gotten the wrong end of the stick about Q4 (a)(ii), the one that requires 400 words when I’ve managed about 80 – the Curse of the Vaguely-Worded Questions seems to have struck M366 again. I’m not sure how much I can actually divulge about the disparity between what I thought the question was asking for and what my tutor has advised me to write about – but in any case, if anyone is finding it hard to write 400 words for this question, I would definitely recommend asking your tutor for guidance, in case you’ve interpreted the question the same way I had.

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I like bees. I like burnets. I do not like M366.

I like bees. I like burnets. I do not like M366.

This week, M366 has been sucking the life out of me.

I decided on Saturday that, since I’m getting on well with Block B of MS221, I should spend some time on M366 to make sure I’m ahead of schedule enough to put both those courses on hold in May/June while I revise for the M257 exam. I was pretty reluctant to leave MS221 and go back to M366, but I didn’t anticipate just how tedious I would actually find Block 3, the Natural Intelligence block.

Theoretically, this should have been quite an interesting block for me: I love insects (which are the inspiration for some of the AI approaches discussed in the block), I’m interested in evolution and natural selection, I’m comfortable with the vector maths used in the block, and the idea of swarm robotics is just plain cool. However, for some reason, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about the material in this block. I don’t know whether it’s the writing style of the author, or something about NetLogo that puts me off, but either way I’ve found this weekend’s study sessions to be actually less enjoyable than a day at work. Which frightens me!
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I got my Exam Timetable mailing for the June/July exam period yesterday, and have been freaking out a little bit this morning about the prospect of fitting M257 revision in alongside M366 and MS221. The main thing that was worrying me was the fact that the TMA02 cut-off dates for both M366 and MS221 fall in the couple of weeks before the M257 exam (which is on the 17th of June). Last year during the summer exam period, I put MT262 on hold for about a month while I revised for M255 and M263, which seemed to work fairly well; but this year, I’ve got two courses to put on hold while I revise for a third, and that feels a bit trickier to negotiate.

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M257 TMA01 returned!

I’m really happy to have this TMA back at last, mainly because it means Alex won’t have to put up with me grumbling eleventy-billion times per day about how much I want to see my grade and feedback. I got 95% for this one, which is a little bit worse than the mark I got for M255 TMA01 (96%) and so is a tiny bit disappointing, but overall I’m very happy with the score.

I felt very detached when I submitted TMA01 via the eTMA system, which was quite an unpleasant feeling; since there had been a few weeks between finishing the assignment and actually submitting it, I felt a bit like I didn’t really know what I was submitting (and had to try very hard not to keep unzipping the file and having a look, just to make sure it was all there!). I do keep a record on my study calendar of which questions I’ve finished for each TMA, so I knew I must have fully finished the assignment, but it was still unsettling not to have it fresh in my mind.

So I think for TMA03, and certainly for the assignments in M366 and MS221, I’m going to try to leave the TMA-writing stage until closer to the cut-off date. I definitely don’t want to be feeling unsettled and anxious about three different TMAs at once!