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Applications of probability

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: M343
  • Level: 3
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Student reviews

This course is entirely do-able if you make sure you're comfortable with Bayes' formula, conditional probability and the basic ideas behind probability distributions before you start. All this is covered in the first block of M343, but at a quick pace; you'll feel more comfortable if you've done the basics before.

Also, for those students worried about their calculus knowledge, brush up on basic differentiation and integration techniques; you won't need to master integration by parts or substitution to do well.

In the middle part of the course, partial differential equations are used to solve some probability questions. I have to say this was the most difficult part for most students.

The course covers a lot of very interesting topics. I particularly liked the gambling parts (I'm not going to a casino again!), the spread of diseases (epidemics) and genetics.

Stuart Reynolds

Course starting: October 2015

Review posted: October 2016

I thoroughly enjoyed this module.
A wide range of applications are covered and the course materials are well written throughout. The use of probability functions to model lifetimes, patterns in space, queues, renewal models and genetics to name a few. There is a lot of variety in the course.

Although knowledge of probability distributions is required this is not a full-on statistics course. Some prior knowledge is useful but not essential in my opinion as the basics are covered early in he course.
As other reviewers have said there is quite a lot of calculus involved but in the main it is not too difficult.

There is plenty of choice in the exam (June 2015) 4 out of 7 short questions and 3 out of 5 long questions. The Handbook is excellent and can be taken into the exam. I liked not having compulsory questions but that is just my personal preference. There are lots of past papers available and I found these invaluable in preparing for the exam.

Support and guidance from my tutor was excellent for this course. I found face to face tutorials especially helpful.

Course starting: October 2014

Review posted: May 2016

I found this course very interesting, with well-written material that applied probability to a very wide range of problems and situations. It may be a little too neat in places compared to the messy "real world" but it was nice to have problems that usually had an exact answer or answer to 3 decimal places, if you could work out what that was.

There is quite a lot of calculus, but with apologies to those who don't like calculus, it mostly seemed to be at the level normally encountered in A-level Maths, nothing really mind-blowing. If you are comfortable with calculus and better at avoiding silly miscalculations than I am, then it is possible to get very high marks in the TMAs and CMAs. For the CMAs, think hard and read the questions carefully as they necessarily have to have plausible wrong answers - eg they often ask for the standard deviation of something when you might expect to give the variance or vice versa and you get zero marks in a CMA for getting that wrong - with care you can score very highly in CMAs.

For the exam, do lots of practice and attend any revision tutorials, and take part in the online forums - the long exam questions usually have some hard bits at the end so look for those you can do before choosing. My tutor was very helpful so do attend your tutorials if possible.

Course starting: October 2012

Review posted: August 2013

I studied M343 as the final module of the Statistics diploma, and whilst I found the content very interesting and relevant, I also thought it was the most difficult of the four stats courses. I had not studied integration for about 10 years and, although I did spend a bit of time revising calculus in advance of starting the course, I regretted that I had not done more.

Having said that, I came to realise as the course progressed that the examples and activities given in the course text were often more complex than those that we were expected to complete in the assignments and the exam - so my advice would be not to panic if you find the course activities difficult, especially at first.

Partly because of the need to keep refreshing my mind on some of the mathematical techniques, I also found that studying M343 took up more time than any of the other 30-credit modules I had completed. Some of the early units in particular contained a lot of activities and I learnt that it wasn't always realistic to try to complete all of them.

On the other hand, the content of the course was sufficiently interesting to make the extra study time worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed the sections on patterns in space, Markov chains and epidemics. Birth-death processes were more of a struggle, and I was glad that I was a little ahead of schedule by the time I reached this part of the course.

By the end of the module, the parts that had puzzled me made much more sense. I would recommend obtaining lots of past exam papers as this really helped with revision and to get an overview of all of the course content. With perseverance, it is possible to obtain a good mark in this course, even without recent background in pure maths.

Overall, this is an interesting and rewarding, if challenging, module.

Sally Anne Giles

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: March 2012

Brilliant course! The teaching material was excellent, the feedback from the tutor prompt and comprehensive and the subject material really interesting ranging from the path of a drunken walk to fluctuations on the stock market with queueing theory and epidemics along the way. This really has stimulated my interest and I have immediately signed up for the new course M347 Mathematical Statistics. The TMAs were a very fair test of the unit material and there are a lot of past papers to have a go at. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!

Robert Anthony Cryan

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

Unfortunately one of the worst written stats courses provided by the OU. There are face to face tutorials provided but not enough or long enough to make up for the poor course material - made the whole course even harder work and less enjoyable than it should have been. A disappointment after the other well written courses that make up the Diploma.

Claire Janine Elson

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

Faculty response

M343 has been completely rewritten and updated for February 2012. Also, as is evident from the other reviews, this is not the usual response to the module, which is very popular and generally well-received by students. The 2011 presentation was the last of the first edition of the module.

Overall this was an excellent course: very interesting content, well presented. This probability course covers core probability theory and then applies it to many different contexts. It's fascinating material, and also extremely useful for my current masters course. The material was extremely clear and well explained.
Overall: 10/10.

Lewis Percival Gordon Evans

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: January 2011

This was my 10th module with the Open University and the most enjoyable. You need a good grasp of Mathematical concepts to get the most out of this module. Some of the sections are tricky. If you prepare properly for TMAs and for the examination, there are papers right back to 1995 out there. in cyber space somewhere, the course hasn't changed much, it is possible to achieve a very good score in the module. Good tutor and TMA feedback made this an all round enjoyable course.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: December 2010

Generally an interesting course, most topics I had not met before, it was quite a wide course to earn 30 credits.
Most topics could be solved by applying the right formula in the course handbook , but beware there are a lot of formulas and the layout is very quirky with little room for your notes so you will need to know your way round the book.

Often and particularly in the third quarter the pure mathematics gets a bit heavy and things get intergrated by parts and then expressed as a Taylor series for no particular reason. This is followed by a 6 page explanation of why 2 events in a Poisson process can't occur at the same time; this may be very interesting to someone (not me as I did not understand it) but be assured it is possible to pass this course without intergrating or differentiating ANYTHING. There are plenty of easier questions on the paper as well.

Sean Robinson

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: December 2010

One of the most enjoyable math courses I have done. Most problems revolve around identifying the correct
probability distribution in the table.

Exam revision materials are excellent with lots of sample questions and answers. The exam is straight forward.

Make good use of the probability tables and remember to annotate as much as possible in the course

If you get stuck just keep thinking the probability has to lie somewhere between 0 and 1.

Terence Edward Cadd

Course starting: February 2009

Review posted: October 2010

The best course I've studied with the Open University. The topics covered are diverse and interesting, the course notes clear and with dozens of good-quality examples and the exam was a very fair test of the material.
The course was far from easy. I spent many an hour pondering over questions and material, but this was because of the interest the course generated.

Many of the TMA questions were challenging - but none were repetitive and boring, as is the case with some other courses. If you study the sample paper and a couple of past papers before the exam you'll find it very approachable.

I recommend this course if you want to be challenged and learn some very interesting topics.

Neil Reynolds

Course starting: February 2008

Review posted: December 2008

This was a good course. The material itself is challenging, and mostly quite interesting. It's one of the OU's older courses but has stood the test of time well. The course units are relatively short by OU standards, but much more dense. I often found reading the course units to be like painting the Forth Bridge - I'd get six pages through an in-depth discussion only to find that I'd forgotten the first page and would have to go back to the beginning. But in amongst all the alphas, betas and gammas of the maths there are some really magical results on a wide variety of subjects. Fortunately, the TMAs and the exams test the results rather than the detailed workings in the units which lead up to them. Overall, the course is a good survey of classical probability, goes through some difficult material, and along the way teaches some fundamental methods in probability.

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: October 2008

I found this course very interesting - it covers a huge range of statistical topics clearly and logically, so there is always something different to look forward to, even if a particular module seems hard going.

As a non-mathematician I found some of the maths a struggle, but my tutor was very supportive, and it was possible to do well even without much maths ability. If you DON'T have much maths ability, DO think long and hard about this course - you'll need a minimum of some knowledge of calculus to get the most from it.

Whatever your statistical interests, you will find something here to interest you, and a lot more besides.

Angela Mary Bernadette Lyon

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: April 2008

A fascinating and very useful course for anyone who needs to deal with stochastic models or probability in their work. I found the course material was well-explained, though hard work at times.

Since you are allowed to take the handbook into the exam, not too much time is wasted learning formulae (which you could refer to in a book in real life) and the emphasis is on understanding concepts.

I would have appreciated more on fitting models to data, or at least some references on where to learn more about this. (In my experience OU courses in general are weak on referring the student to external sources for further information).

William John Edward Hoppitt

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: December 2007

An enjoyable course well presented and fairly easy. some of the proofs to do with birth and death processes in the middle of the course were a bit difficult to follow and understand but on the whole the course was quite easy to follow.

Course starting: February 2006

Review posted: March 2007

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.

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