Suggestions from Steve

Here are some suggestions from Steve Havelin, graduate, teacher, PhD student and all-round OU expert. Click to read Steve’s OU biography.


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Tackling Tight Timing Tips 1 – TMAs

When you start a new block don’t follow the study schedule. Dive right in with the TMA. Follow the TMA guidance notes. Go straight to the bits of the block it tells you to. Stick to them. Read through these ‘block bits’. Follow up readings. Look at online links. Do the activities. But don’t do anything that’s followed by a discussion. Just go straight to the discussion. And don’t do any of the optional activities.

Makes notes as you go. Refer constantly to the title of the TMA. Start drafting your answer right from the beginning. Don’t wait until you’ve ‘done everything’ and ‘got all your notes together’. Gather your thoughts as you go along. Jot down words, phrases and sentences. Note down quotes. Reference them there and then. Do that the moment you write them down. Be meticulous about this. Cite absolutely everything fully and accurately. Build up your ‘Bibliography and References’ as you go.

All this is ‘writing your way into’ your answer. It really helps form ideas and shape them into an argument. It’s not just doing ‘notes’ then ‘thinking’ then ‘writing up’. It’s much more academically rigorous. It’s more demanding too. But the end result will be much better. And you’ve effectively finished your TMA at the start of the block!

Now you can work your way through the rest of the block. If you come across anything which would improve your TMA you can modify it accordingly. Once again – don’t follow the study schedule! Scan through the block looking for what else appears relevant. Select sections that seem worth a closer look. Skim them. Hone in on what to scrutinise carefully. Incorporate into your TMA anything you find which will improve it. Keep doing this right up until the submission deadline. This means your TMA will be as good as it possibly can be.

The beauty of this approach is how well it caters for the unexpected! Imagine that you follow the study schedule, find yourself falling behind, and have to blitz the TMA at the last minute. You haven’t reached the sections you need for it. Or they were earlier on in the block, you’ve forgotten them, and you really need to go back over them again. But you’ve run out of time.

The approach outlined above avoids this. And if your studies go smoothly you’ll still have plenty of time left to cover the rest of the material which wasn’t relevant for your TMA – but might well be for the examination at the end of the course.