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Mathematical methods

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This module is designed to teach you about a variety of mathematical methods which are used in modelling through their application to solving real world problems. These methods include differential equations, linear algebra and vector calculus. You will become familiar with new mathematical skills mainly by using pencil and paper and by thinking. This module will give you a good foundation for higher-level study and is essential preparation for most OU level 3 mathematics, statistics or physics modules. To study this module you should have a sound knowledge of algebra, calculus, and geometry as provided by the appropriate OU level 1 study.

What you will study

The mathematical methods covered by this module are the core analytic methods that are useful for modelling the real world. The analytical (as opposed to numerical) solution of first and second-order ordinary differential equations is discussed, followed by linear algebra (vectors, matrices and determinants). We develop the elements of the calculus of functions of several variables, including vector calculus, which is followed by an introduction to methods for solving partial differential equations.

These mathematical methods are illustrated by putting them in the context of real world applications (such as simple mechanical systems). You will be assessed only on your mathematical skills, not on your knowledge of the context used. The module teaches 'pencil and paper' mathematical skills: although it explains where numerical methods are important, there is no programming or special software required.

You will learn all the core mathematical methods that are needed for further studies in applied sciences. In further study you will begin to appreciate the power of the methods introduced here – they are applicable in a very wide variety of situations.

The module is delivered as printed material in four books. There are some optional supporting materials on the website.

Professional recognition

This module may help you to gain membership of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). For further information, see the IMA website.

Entry requirements

You normally must have passed Essential mathematics 1 (MST124).

If you’re studying towards an engineering qualification, a pass in Engineering: mathematics, modelling, applications (T194) is an acceptable alternative to Essential mathematics 1. However, we recommend that you’ve also studied Core engineering A (T271) and Core engineering B (T272) to reinforce your skills in essential topics, such as algebra, calculus and geometry.

If you already have a strong mathematical background, you may be allowed to study Mathematical methods without having first studied Essential mathematics 1 or Engineering: mathematics, modelling, applicationsTalk to an advisor.

Our self-assessed quiz can help you determine if you have the appropriate level of mathematical knowledge.

What's included

Four module books, a handbook (which can be taken into the examination), optional simulations and other support material on the website, assessment materials.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • macOS 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

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. We may also be able to offer group tutorials in your locality that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend, and there is an online forum. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us 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.

You can choose whether to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) on paper or online through the eTMA system. You may want to submit some of your assignments online but submit on paper for others. This is entirely your choice.

Both the interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs) and TMAs will focus strongly on learning through practice rather than on assessment. The feedback you receive on your answers will help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the study material and to develop important skills associated with the module.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying MST224 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Mathematical methods starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2020.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
4 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No residential school

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