MST326 exam

I’ve been studying maths with the Open University for over a decade, and an annual 3-hour exam has become part of my routine. I don’t actually like exams, but there is something pleasing about the ritual, and they are so unlike anything else, that they make good place markers with respect to the passage of time.

The great thing about maths is that exam preparation doesn’t require revision as such, it’s more about identifying the problem types that may come up, and practising – by doing. Another positive aspect of exam preparation is – in some cases – you are forced to investigate some parts of the course that you failed properly to get to the bottom of first time round.

These exams are pretty demanding: even if the right questions come up and you’re on top of the material – there’s a lot to be done, and to get right, in the time available. Typically with maths exams you have a pretty good idea about how well you are doing in any particular problem: very much a two-edged sword.

Exams require you to shed much of your day-to-day paraphernalia. Here’s what I did take:

  • Umbrella (not needed).
  • House keys.
  • Reading glasses (on which I am 100% dependent).
  • Two black biros.
  • Calculator (not needed – thankfully as using one is a real weak spot).
  • Passport (picture ID – checked).
  • Printout of exam logistics and venue.
  • Murray Mints (6 eaten).
  • Kit Kats (not eaten).
  • Water (300ml drunk).

Plus MST326 (Mathematical methods and fluid mechanics) handbook, annotated with my crib notes on:

  • Line integrals in cartesian coordinates.
  • Steps for second order partial differential equation with change of variables.
  • Derivation of some water wave results.
  • Wave parameters (λ=wavelength; ω=angular frequency; κ=wave number).
  • d’Alembert’s solution to the wave equation; role of characteristic curves.

Wave parameters is a good example of something really very easy that I simply cannot remember. And the role of characteristics in interpreting d’Alembert’s solution is a (small) topic I only really to grips with in the immediate run-up to the exam.

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