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Michael Gumbrell

marks, marks and more marks

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Edited by Michael Gumbrell, Sunday, 12 Feb 2017, 11:56

i know it is way to early to be considering this point, but I have been looking through the classification rules for honours degrees. I am a little bit compulsive/obsessive about these sort of things and so I cannot help but look and think about them.

So YO32 and DD103 were just distinction or pass ranks, I passed both, with an average mark of 80%, but no distinction for me (85% required), and now we are on to level 2 scores the 1,2,3 and 4 scoring systems kick in.

So through my first 3 tma's I rank 83%, which is a level 2 pass, but as is well documented the exam/ema scores that you get as the final part of the module are even harder to score well in.

So at the moment I am ranking as a level 2 pass, or the equivalent of a 2:1 degree. I find that very scary considering the final exam might well not be as much of a good score, so the thought that even with, what I thought were good tma scores, I might only rank as a level 3 pass for this module is a little disheartening.

There are quite a few blogs and forum posts online about how hard it is to get a good degree classification from the O.U and having looked at the level of mark required to get into the top 2 degree levels I tend to agree with them.

At a bricks and mortar university the grade boundaries are different and lower, someone i know got 78% and that was a first class degree in social work. 78% with the OU would leave me sweating on a 2:2 or a 2:1 pass !

on my degree pathway, BA (Hons) Politics, Philosophy and Economics I have 3 level 2 modules and 2 level 3 modules, I only had one level 1 module. Since I have 90 credits already, this module I am currently on, DD211' investigating political institutions in the modern world' would give me another 60 credits, taking me up to 150 credits. I think I might investigate the options for transferring out of the O.U to another online provider or a part time course with a local bricks and mortar university.

I suppose it is a fine balance, the OU want us to study with them, after all they get the fee's for our study, however they need to have a large take up to support themselves financially. But with some of the cost cutting measures and restructuring work done by the Vice-chancellor I wonder if the level of fee they charge, combined with the challenging high marks required for a top 2 level pass is worth the debt I am incurring for it(I pay for my study with a student loan).

So I will have a look at my other options, I am sure I cannot be the only student who has considered or done this before. my apologies if I am just reiterating the previous concerns of other students.

Without wishing to state the obvious, it is a learning process. I enrolled for an access module (YO32) to see if study suited me, I had no idea back then about grade boundaries and module study. I qualified for the free Access course, then when I decided I wanted to start a degree, found that the cost of £ 675 for the access module had been added to my student loan! I had first opted for an open degree, but having done some research, I decided to switch to a degree pathway and study Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

So it has been a learning process, so I feel a little bit ungrateful for having benefitted from the process, to now been in a position where I am questioning the value and nature of the process, it's classification process and considering changing to a new provider.

However I will have a £ 18,000 debt on completing study, with the O.U or elsewhere and for me and my level of income, that is a huge debt and I will be paying it back past my retirement age. So I feel I have to be sure I have made the best possible use of the loan, and off set the risk of having the loan by securing the best possible outcome from using it.

So is a £ 18,000 debt, 6 years of study and the amount of study required worth it? If I scored a solid 75% in my 5 of my 6 years of study and received a 2:1, then YES.

but if I end up with a £ 18,000 debt, 6 years of study and, what I would considered a solid mark of 70%, with a 2:2 degree, the I would say NO.

I would be very interested in your comments, I would like to know if I am being unreasonable, or if you might think I am right to be concerned?

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I've rationalised similar thoughts by accepting it's not up to me to set the rules.

On the one hand it does feel unfair that my son studying at a Russel Group university requires lower marks for the same grades but on the other hand he got into a Russel Group university and I didn't!  Bog standard comprehensive school lad comrades, the bar to entry was set very high for him whereas I had none.  That does need to be ironed out to obtain parity which is what I assume we want - our degrees to be as good as theirs.

The OU is seen to be rigorous and that's part of the reason I think the qualification is properly respected (as opposed with a BA in Surfboard Design from the University of Neverheardofit).


Michael Gumbrell

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Hi Chris.

Thanks for your thoughts.

BA in surfboard design !

Where do i sign up!

Oh thats right the university of idontknowwhere, do they have online addmissios?

Yes i agree, we dont make the rules, but rigour can well include the fact that us 'comprehensive boys' are working full time, making time for our families and living a busy life while studying.

I stll think the grade boundaries seem unfair, it might be argued that instead of aiming to empower the students they seem to me to be quite demotivating and one scrappy module could break a potentially good student.

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It seems we're in very similar boats Michael,

And as products of Comps we both learned that fairness isn't something to be relied upon in life!  We've probably both take some pleasure from knowing that we've earned what we've got, I don't know how my degree classification will go but I'm clear it's the same for all OU students (that's fair) and whatever it is I'll have earned it.

I've got serious issues with the OU at the moment and value for money is high on the list as I'm running up a similar debt.  Grade boundaries are less of a concern for me - although taking the lowest of OCAS and OES rather than the average seems unnecessarily mean.


metal mickey

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The system is different. Percentages are not directly comparable. You cannot draw the conclusion you have from the reasons you give (though that does not make the conclusion untrue of course.)

There is nothing wrong in looking ahead, it seems like a wise move but you have to have a more complete picture. Examples:

You do not need distinctions on everything by any means (60 points at L3 and few disasters elsewhere for a first, 60 of grade 2 for a 2:1 etc.) There is also substitution on some modules. You can defer, maybe lower your study intensity for higher grades. If your classification is important then check module completions and pass 1 rates especially for your L3s. You can prestudy the materials fairly easily. The exam papers are fairly samey year-on-year. etc.

There's no ingratitude in picking your best option but there are no guarantees of a good classification anywhere so I'd want to be sure there was a real difference in institutions regarding degree classification before putting much faith in it.

Michael Gumbrell

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Hi colin,

I am not able to lower my study intensity, i am on a full 6 year part time course, with restricted February starts. So my study intensity will only be the full 6 year part time route.

If i substitute a TMA it will bring my OCAS down by division, making it harder to achieve the OCAS score needed for a good grade, plus if the OES score is often lower than your OCAS, the open university PDF's all reinforce this in the descriptions, then the score is being driven down again by division.

Perhaps the point i might consider is this,

40-55% a third

56-70% a 2:2

71-85% a 2:1

85-100% a first.

I wonder if anyone has ever achieved a 100% mark from their tutor.

The best i ever reached was 95%, if you can score 100% then it would be impossible to give any feedback, leaving the next TMA part 2, your self reflection exercise as a mute point.

so is the reality that, to gain a first you have to hit 85%-95% across all TMA's (no substitution allowed because it will drive the mark down) and 85%-95% on all OES because otherwise the division will drive your mark down?

Perhaps my point is, 9 months and 5 or 6 TMA's delivered at 90% would be undone by a single exam scoring 60%, leaving an overall mark of 75%, again a borderline 2:2 or 2:1

All this is very much a mute point, i had a look at other providers, and their are quite a few masters providers with online study, but a great deal less undergraduate providers with distance study. Their are options with vocational options and experience, but they lead to vocational degree's, which tends to bind you even more to your currently career path, and part of my choice for the OU was to seek a degree that would open up new paths for me.

So having had a look i think i might be stuck with the OU and they with me!

Michael Gumbrell

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Hi Chris,

i am still enamored with idea of a BA in surfboard design. Do you think ti would come with 'honours' or a 'dudeship'?

I take your point about the value for money very seriously though, i have had a look at other providers and a credit transfer for me is not really an option, the other providers seem to have very closed vocational options and i wanted to study to be able to change my career path.

So the issue of value for money for me comes into sharper focus because it looks like the OU is my only realistic option. Value for money is harder to swallow when a student 5 years ago with the OU, paid only a fraction of the money we are borrowing to pay. Prices will rise, but their is an expectation that the service will reflect the increase, the whole tutorial problem in September bring that into focus, i think we should pay careful attention to upcoming changes of service, at some point cuts will impact student numbers (just look at the 30% drop in student numbers at bricks and mortar universities in 2016).

If cuts affect service, then that in turn runs the risk of affecting our learning and then our marks.

metal mickey

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A strategic deferral can work very well as a de-intensifier.

Substitutions do not lower your score. They lessen the impact of one bad TMA and can be a lifesaver. Without substitution I simply don't get a first.

Yes you have to hit TMA and exam marks and many people do less well at the latter. but

"so is the reality that, to gain a first you have to hit 85%-95% across all TMA's (no substitution allowed because it will drive the mark down) and 85%-95% on all OES because otherwise the division will drive your mark down?"

is just not true. My L2 pure distinction included a 70 and a 43 among the TMA scores, I started with a 76 in my final module and got it up there. I've scored 100 in a TMA and am not alone by any means (maths tho.)

'Perhaps my point is, 9 months and 5 or 6 TMA's delivered at 90% would be undone by a single exam scoring 60%, leaving an overall mark of 75%, again a borderline 2:2 or 2:1.'

This is totally not how it works (at least for my courses.) Think of the TMAs and exam as two different assessments. You have to nail them both. Your overall mark would be the lower of the two aka 60%. If you scored 60% in the TMAs and 100% in the exam you still get 60%.
Michael Gumbrell

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Hi Colin,

i am not doing maths on my course, my course is politics, philosophy and economics.

so my study area is subjective, especially considering politics is a 'contested' concept.

so well done for getting 100% in your TMA, but i would suggest that perhaps a maths TMA and a politics TMA are very different, one is definitive the other is subjective. 

I had a try out with the assessment calculator and applying substitution in my OCAS really hurts the score, 

Perhaps the philosophy module will be just as subjective and risk the damage to grades by bad TMA's, i am yet to arrive at my economics module yet ( we did look through common resource management last year), so perhaps Economics will have some more definitive elements in it.

But i am still not sure the ratio of hours of study and independent work required to hopefully gain a level 1 result is balanced well against the risk of dropping down into level 2-3 bands with just a couple of bad results.

Perhaps i am just missing the subtleties of the guidance notes and the Assessment calculator.

Tomasz Kasinski

Wrong approach


"Perhaps my point is, 9 months and 5 or 6 TMA's delivered at 90% would be undone by a single exam scoring 60%, leaving an overall mark of 75%, again a borderline 2:2 or 2:1"

You are wrong! - scoring 90% on TMA's and then 60% during exam will set your overall mark to 60%! - Don't believe what they say!!!

My maths course - 96% tma's - exam 84% - Overall - Grade 2 pass

visual basic - 91% tma's - exam 84% - overall - Grade 2 pass

M269 - 85% tma's - 68% EMA - Grade 3 pass

Don't be fooled - every time the lowest score set your overall mark ...

Lauren Bate

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I'm feeling disheartened too. Worrying more about the long-term debt and how tight the grade boundaries are.

As part of languages, we have to take English modules. On my Spanish, I am getting between 80 and 99%. On my English, I'm getting 60-75. It's a level 2 course and I'm worried it's going to drop me down massively. 

I take Spanish further and I either have another L2 or an L3 English to go after this one - will see what happens!

Good luck with whatever decision you make

Sophie Littler

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I have struggled to find any definitive documents from the OU of what constitutes a 1st, 2:1, 2:2 and so on at the end of the degree as I know it is not the same as going to a physical university (which I personally find unfair, a degree is a degree at the end of the day no matter how you study for it). I do want to know officially and definitively what I have to do to obtain these grades, particularly before it's too late.

However one point I would make to all is to not worry about how much you are paying for it (and here I'm refer to those making the use of student loans). Student loans are not paid until you can afford it (once you earn over £25,000 as of this april) and is only 9% of what you earn over the threshold. If you earn £26,000 (not a bad wage) you'll repay £90 a year, equating to £2,700 over 30 years when your debt is wiped. So the repayments can be extremely minimal in comparison to what you have borrowed (not even factoring in the interest they have piled onto your loan). The only people who student loans actually affect are those whom earn enough to pay higher rate tax, and by this point I think we can agree that they can afford this?

Stuart Thomas Matson

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Have you tried this?


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The percentages for boundaries may seem to be higher, but it is just a different marking criteria.

The standard of work required for 85% at the OU, is similar to the standard of work required for 70% at a Brick and Mortar university, and so forth.

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I'm with the ou and partner at regular uni doing pretty much the same thing, his course work and my own are different ( of course) but grading also. The tutors with the regular uni are very nice here though it's a bit or a miss and I seem to have found two rude ones, one kept commenting on my race which was very offensive. 

The ou is terrible, after this year I'm going to a regular uni like I should have done, the ou is Harrell because the system they use is terrible and as I said the tutors...gosh! Once honestly never met such rude people. Not sure how ones race matters when studying or how the tutors knew I wasn't British ...hmmmm 

So yes regular uni is better, there are friends you meet and the tutors because of face to face are less likely to bully.

I also lost money for a module as the German tutor chris is awful and so rude I was in tears and as someone with PTSD and the uni knowing this, awful experience! Paying basically to be abused is not what I had in mind when studying or being told for someone who isn't British (I was born here) I was getting the hang of the language.