OU Students: Five Ways to Fail a TMA

By Rollo Jones

So you want to prolong your time with the OU?

We all know that studying with the Open University is the most satisfying experience you will ever have. As such it is perfectly natural that you will want to prolong it for as long as possible in the most economical manner. One way many students try to achieve this is to aim for a re-submission result whereby they don’t quite pass a module but are invited to have another go at it, potentially at a discounted rate. True, this could lead to their graduation being delayed; their overall degree classification being reduced; and revisiting the same old material but these are deemed to be small prices to pay.

The first step in aiming for re-submission is doing badly in your TMAs. The following hints garnered from years of working with such students should help you achieve just this.

1 The questions being asked are only indicative

TMAs aren’t designed to check your understanding of the course materials. Furthermore, they are not tied into the learning outcomes and they certainly should not be considered as preparation for the exam or EMA. This means that the questions being asked in TMAs are only indicative. To quote Zootopia: “You wanna look smart? Answer their question with your own question and then answer that question.”

True artisans of this approach are able to change only a few letters or words and obtain a whole new meaning but don’t be too disappointed if you can’t achieve this level of mastery immediately.

Failure Quotient 7/10, you may be unlucky and get a tutor who finds material in your answers which does relate to the question being asked. Best combined with strategy 5.

2 Google Translate is your friend

A good student is one who takes advantage of the technology available to them and who is also unafraid to make their tutor think. Google translate provides the ideal medium for both. An assignment translated into Latin from Ancient Greek via English is bound to be both academic and impressive. Even better it shows your tutor that you know how to use modern technology. You don’t even need to worry if they can read it since they can also use Google Translate. Better still, this approach means that you can avoid proof-reading your answer; checking your grammar; or reviewing your spelling!

A good alternative to the classic languages are new dialects. Emoji and SMS are firm favourites and your tutor will certainly find understanding you challenging whilst still protecting you from the mediocrity of proof-reading and spell checking. Don’t discount them out-of- hand.

Failure Quotient 9/10, after all if a tutor can’t understand you then they can’t give you the marks! Just make sure that some clarity of communication doesn’t creep in by mistake.

3 Screen shots, images and diagrams aren’t actually part of your assignment

This means that you can save time by not including them; not giving them captions and definitely not making sure that they are relevant. This last point is particularly important. Your poor tutor is likely to be exhausted from marking your group’s assignments and would much prefer to see an image showing your dog’s leg; an old boot; and a game fragment than boring academic stuff.

Figure 1: This is a perfect screenshot for your next TMA

If you must include academic content then you must ensure that everything on your screen is included in the image. This will protect you from claims of plagiarism and your tutor has the ability to see the bit related to the question.

Figure B: This is your best option for including academic content. Note that you don’t need to be consistent with the numbering of your figures!

Whatever you do, you must not ensure that the image only shows relevant material and is readable like this

Figure 2: Script showing use of NOT operator — Don’t do this

Failure Quotient 1/10 so best used as part of a cluster strategy.

4 TMAs Don’t Need Submitting

We’ve all seen the assignment calculator. It’s that wonderful tool where you work out how much work you need to do to secure a resit. So, if my module has 5 TMAs I know I can ace the first 2 and skip the last 3. If I’m really unlucky I might get 100% on those first 2 and get a 40% OCAS score so better be careful about that.

To really get the blood pumping a popular variant of this is to miss the first TMAs and submit the latter ones although this seems too much like hard work for me. Don’t forget that your tutor will appreciate not having to spend time marking your work and they definitely won’t be trying to check that you are okay and have all the support you need.

Failure Quotient 10/10. Nuff said…

5 Word limits do not have any special meaning and can be safely ignored

Word limits are certainly not your friend. Keep in mind that they do not give an indication of how much you need to write for a comprehensive answer and it is perfectly reasonable to use less than half of the word limit in your answers. Of course, your tutor can count whilst reading which means that you don’t need to include a word count either.

There is also no truth in the rumours that some modules ask tutors not to mark beyond the stated word count and there definitely no penalties. This means that you have freedom to exceed the word limit many times over without worry.

Failure Quotient 2/10 but a good way to reinforce your desire to retake the year

What next?

So there we have it, five ways to help us prolong our enjoyment of the OU and I am sure that you will develop you own approaches to this noble art as your experience grows. One final thought though, don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. Far better to use resources such as the Developing Good Academic Practice microsite and the Harvard Referencing Guide to make sure that you don’t accidentally stray into the realm of passing your assignments.

Good luck and I hope to see you in 20 years’ time!

Rollo Jones works as a tutor for the Open University. Find out more about Survivingtheou over at our website.