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Using mathematics

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This broad, enjoyable introduction to university-level mathematics assumes some prior knowledge, as described on our MathsChoices website. The module shows how mathematics can be applied to answer some key questions from science, technology, and everyday life. You will study a range of fundamental techniques, including calculus, recurrence relations, matrices and vectors and statistics, and use integrated specialist mathematical software to solve problems. The skills of communicating results and defining problems are also developed. This is not a module for beginners – at the MathsChoices website ( there are quizzes, sample material and advice to help you determine if this module is right for you.

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This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2013.

What you will study

A few weeks before the module begins you’ll receive a Revision Pack, including two assignments (see Preparatory Work below) – to help you revise the mathematical skills you need before you start the module – so you are advised to register early.

The module begins with Starting points, which features a first exploration of the main software package applied to some basic mathematical material. The rest of the module is in four sections.

Mathematics and modelling starts from situations in the world that can be modelled by mathematical techniques. The models use such mathematics as the properties and representations of arithmetic and geometric sequences, lines and circles, and functions such as x2, sin x, cos x and ex.

Discrete modelling deals with population models and their long-term behaviour, and introduces the arithmetic of matrices and vectors in order to examine the interdependence of different subpopulations. Vectors are also used to model problems involving various physical quantities, such as forces.

Continuous models covers calculus and introduces the process of differentiation. Derivatives are obtained for many functions, and these are used to model motion and to solve optimisation problems. Next we look at integration, first as the reverse of differentiation and then as the limit of an infinite sum. A list of standard integrals is obtained, and these are applied to solve simple differential equations, to find areas, and in other modelling contexts.

Modelling uncertainty is about probability and statistics. A chapter on chance invokes intuitive ideas of randomness and adds to your experience of thinking about probability through the use of purpose-designed software. This is followed by computer-aided exploration of sampling and sampling distributions and by an examination of regression.

The module also develops skills beyond mathematical technique, such as identifying and defining problems and communicating the results of your mathematical work – these are required for the effective application of mathematics to solve problems.

There are samples of the study material, including example assessment questions, available at the Maths Choices website.

The module introduces the use of computer software to help your mathematics. This is an integral part of its approach, so you will need regular and convenient access to a suitable personal computer.

You will learn

Successful study of this module should begin to develop your skills in:

  • expressing problems in mathematical language
  • finding solutions to problems
  • communicating mathematical ideas clearly and succinctly.


This is a key introductory Level 1 module. Level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at Level 2.

The module assumes that you already have a good knowledge and understanding of:

  • the arithmetic of whole numbers, decimals and fractions (including negative numbers, powers and roots);
  • algebraic manipulation, such as multiplying out brackets, factorisation of simple expressions, interpreting inequalities and solving linear and quadratic equations;
  • properties of triangles, rectangles and circles;
  • the trigonometric ratios sine, cosine and tangent;
  • equations of straight lines;
  • quadratic, exponential, logarithmic and trigonometric functions, and their graphs.

A mathematical A-level, or a good pass in the highest-level GCSE mathematics (or the equivalent), would normally provide this. If all you need is a reminder of some of these topics, you can use the MST121 Revision Pack to revise them. However, if much of the list is unfamiliar, you should consider taking MST121 after completing our Level 1 module Discovering mathematics (MU123). MST121 relies on a very good understanding of most of MU123, or equivalent from previous study.

MST121 is the second module in the mathematics entry suite, following on from Discovering mathematics (MU123) and leading to Exploring mathematics (MS221). Your choice of which to take depends on how much mathematical knowledge you already have and on the degree you have in mind. It is not advisable to take either MST121 or MS221 in the same year as MU123, and you should not take MS221 before MST121.

If you start in October, it is possible – for some qualifications where regulations allow – to study MST121 and MS221 together in a single year as if they are a 60-credit module, as the material in the two modules is linked.

The Maths Choices website contains a self-assessment quiz to help you decide if MST121 is the right module for you.

If you have any doubt about the level of study, please seek advice from our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

A few weeks before the module begins you will be sent a Revision Pack (which covers similar topics to those found in Discovering mathematics (MU123)) and a self-assessment quiz to help you judge what preparation you need to do.

You will also be sent two assignments which assess the mathematics covered in the Revision Pack. It is not compulsory to submit these assignments, and the scores that you obtain will not count in any way towards your final module result, but you are advised to submit them because they give you an opportunity to receive feedback on your mathematical skills and on the way you present your work. One of the assignments is marked by computer and you are advised to submit it during the four weeks before the start of the module. The other assignment is marked by your tutor, and you are advised to submit it during the two weeks before the start of the module.

If you want to do some study before you receive the revision material, we suggest Countdown to Mathematics: Volume 1 by Lynne Graham and David Sargent (1981, Addison-Wesley). Modules 2 and 3, in particular, provide practice in algebra. To gain even greater fluency with algebra and in trigonometry, you could use the companion book Countdown to Mathematics: Volume 2 (authors, date and publisher as above). It is worth trying some examples from each module of Volume 2, but there is a lot of material, so don’t expect to work through every exercise in every section.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

We are trying to make the study materials accessible to as many people as possible. The module makes considerable use of audio and video material and transcripts for these are available. All the printed study material is available in comb-bound format. Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are also available. However some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and formula, diagrams and certain mathematical elements may be particularly difficult to read in this way. The study materials are available on audio in DAISY Digital Talking Book format. Other formats may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

It is important to note that use of the module software, which includes on-screen graphs and mathematical notation, will be an integral part of your study. You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Module books, audio CD, DVD (for video material), CD-ROM and website.

You will need

Audio CD and video DVD playback facilities. Any scientific or graphics calculator.

You require access to the internet at least once a week during the module to download module resources and assignments, submit assignments and to keep up to date with module news. If your tutor offers online tutorials, we also recommend a headset with a microphone and earphones to talk to your tutor and other students online.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. If you are new to the OU, you will find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

Please note that TMAs for all undergraduate mathematics and statistics modules must be submitted on paper as – due to technical reasons – we are unable to accept TMAs via our eTMA system.

The assessment during the module consists of four tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) (all approximately six weeks apart). (There is also a TMA and a CMA, associated with the revision material, but your scores for these do not count towards your module result.) All TMAs are to be submitted on paper, and the CMA must be submitted online using our eCMA system.

Assessment is an essential part of the teaching, so you are expected to complete it all. But if you unavoidably miss or do badly in an assignment in MST121 you are allowed a ‘substitution score’ for one of the TMAs only. You will be given more detailed information when you begin the module.

The examination consists of two parts, both covering the whole of the module. The first section contains multiple choice questions, the second short answer questions.

Professional recognition

Using mathematics is sometimes accepted as an acceptable equivalent qualification to GCSE grade C in mathematics by teacher training institutions, but always at the discretion of each institution. So, if you hope to use this module for this purpose, you are advised to check as early as possible with your chosen teacher training institution(s).

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in January and October 2013 when it will be available for the last time. A replacement module, Essential mathematics 1 (MST124), is planned for February 2014.

Students also studied

Students who studied this course also studied at some time:

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Student Reviews

“This was a challenging course for someone who hadn't studied in 25 years and I enjoyed it enormously. The TMAs ...”
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“MST121 was an extraordinary mathematical journey. It started off with a very rapid review or core maths skills and very ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code MST121
Credits 30
OU Level 1
SCQF level 7
FHEQ level 4
Course work includes:
5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Computer-marked assignment (CMA)
No residential school

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