More working with charts, graphs and tables
More working with charts, graphs and tables

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More working with charts, graphs and tables

2 Reflection on mathematics

You will have decided to study this course for your own reasons. We imagine that a common reason will be a lack of confidence in numerical work. However, we do not want to take this for granted. We have written this section to help you to look at your reasons, so that you can make plans to improve on one or more areas of mathematics and consider how you can work on the areas that you need to.

Activity 1

Before you start to work through the course itself, spend a few minutes thinking about why you felt that this course would be helpful. In particular, answer the following questions.

  • What made me decide to look for help?

  • Why did it sound as if it would be useful?

  • What do I hope to gain by studying this course?

Don't spend too long on answering these questions. We suggest that you write down your answers before you look at our suggestions, and keep your answers to return to later, after you have done some work on the course. Brief notes are enough. It should take you no more than 15–20 minutes at most.


The ideas below may be similar to yours or you may find them useful to add to your own. Your answers may be completely different, of course, and we are not suggesting that these are the ‘right’ ones – but we hope that they might act as a trigger for you to think about other things.

  • What made me decide to look for help?

There are, of course, many reasons why people decide to look for help. It depends on your ability and confidence in numerical work. We have spoken to some OU students and asked them this question, and some of their responses are given below.

I am constantly worried about the use of maths – I always presume that I will get simple problems wrong if numbers are involved.

I am aware that presumed difficulties with maths prevent me from attempting certain aspects of the course. Basic skills could help my confidence, though I feel it may be too late to start.

I am aware of an in-built resistance to doing anything involving figures!

  • Why did it sound as if it would be useful?

This may be more difficult to answer. It may be that you have studied our other course on charts and found it helpful. It may be that you feel that you understand a little about analysing and presenting data, but you are concerned that this may not be enough for your needs.

You may feel that you need all the help that you can get and simply hope that this will be useful in some way that you can't yet define. We believe that the more you can decide on this sort of question at this stage, the more likely you will be to gain from studying this course.

  • What do I hope to gain by studying this course?

This depends very much on the reasons why you chose to study this course. However, you might have included things like the students quoted below.

I can't draw graphs at all and this material looks as if I will need to do this. I want to improve my confidence, and feel that I am doing it right, instead of worrying about it.

I am not very confident with drawing graphs and pie charts, and I have a presentation to do soon.

I can handle tables, graphs, and bar charts and analyse them – I am just not interested in producing them. That must go back to early home background, I think. I am coming up to a section of my course where we are doing this, though, and I know that I need to learn.

I am not very confident with statistics, and I know that I will need this for the next TMA.

If you're a student, one reason that you are likely to be interested in this course is that you realise your modules will require you to carry out some calculations and you don't feel very confident about this. The next activity asks you to think about the use of mathematics in your current module. If you haven't started this yet, skip Activity 2 for the moment and come back to it once you have made a start on your course.

Likewise, if you are not a student, you can simply skip this activity completely.

Activity 2 (Part 1)

Courses vary enormously in terms of their mathematical content and in this activity we suggest that you spend some time looking at your own course to gain an idea of the sort of mathematical knowledge needed.

To begin with, look at a course or block of your course and try to identify what the outcomes of that part of the course are. Different courses have different layouts: you may find the outcomes at the end of units, or in an Assignment Booklet, the Course Guide or separate block guides. Once you have found the outcomes, decide which of them are to do with mathematical understanding, knowledge or skills. For example: they may say that you will be able to understand a particular concept, that you will be able to read and understand mathematics from tables, or that you will be able produce graphs and/or tables. Now make a list of the mathematics that you are being asked to learn. (You might need to clarify this with your tutor if you aren't sure about what is required or if numerical work is not mentioned. It may be that the ability to draw charts or graphs is assumed by the Course Team, but your tutor will know this.)

Next, look at the assessment for that part of the course. It may include a tutor marked assignment (TMA), computer marked assignment (CMA), an examinable component or a specimen exam paper, depending on what stage you have reached in the course. Identify what specific mathematical understanding, knowledge or skills form part of the assessment. For example, your course may include project work as part of the assessment. This might include some form of quantitative assessment, perhaps presenting figures in charts or graphs once you have collected them.


You should now have two lists, one of mathematical topics that are covered in that part of the course, and one of mathematical skills that are assessed. If you aren't sure about these, then you may need to either look at the block or course in more detail, or talk to your tutor or other students.

Activity 2 (Part 2)

Once you have made your lists, you need to decide on priorities. We suggest that you:

  • decide on the areas that you need to learn;

  • make a list of these areas in order of priority (the areas may be, for example, mathematical concepts that you need to learn because they are needed for the course assessment);

  • decide to tackle the one that you need to do in the short term as the first priority, then move on to others;

  • check the rest of this course, to see if what you need is covered directly;

  • identify any areas not covered in this course.


Once you have made a list of those mathematical aspects that you need to learn and listed them according to priority, don't be discouraged if there seems to be quite a lot that you need to do. This can be off putting, and you might feel that you want to give up, but by preparing a prioritised list you should be able to see what you need to tackle most urgently, and make a plan for that first. Then you can come back to the rest when you need to.

This course may directly cover your priority areas. If it does, then we suggest that you turn first to the relevant part or parts in Sections 3–7. If it doesn't, try the list in Section 9 ‘Further reading and sources of help’.

What we have asked you to do in this section is to look at your experience of numerical work in the context of your current circumstances, as well as in the past. As you can see from the quotes we have given, other people feel unsure about their use of mathematics. But now you are ready to look at the rest of the course and to move on to some practical work on your areas of concern.


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