Posted by: Kash Farooq | March 8, 2011

A guide to studying with the Open University

I’ve been studying with the Open University for a few years now and I’m often asked how it works, how long it takes to get a degree, how much it costs, etc.

Rather than answer these questions in a series of 140 character tweets, I thought I’d blog it.

Firstly, I’d just like to highly recommend studying with the Open University. The courses and materials are interesting, varied and engaging (I guess they need to be for distance learning). I have really enjoyed my experience so far: studying has been a pleasure, not a chore. The Open University If you’re not sure you want to formally study, try starting with a “short course”. That’s what I did, and I got hooked after my first course (Fossils and the History of Life).

You can study at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. I only have experience of undergraduate study. Specifically, I only have experience of studying undergraduate science so that’s what I’ll concentrate on.

I am currently working towards a B.Sc (Hons) Natural Sciences, specialising in Astronomy.

What you need to gain a degree

  • To obtain a B.Sc. degree, you need to gain 300 points.
  • To obtain a B.Sc. (Hons) degree you need 360 points.
  • Points are gained by passing modules; each module is worth a certain number of points.
  • The 360 points required for an honours degree are split across modules at three different levels – you need to gain 120 points by passing Level 1 modules, 120 at Level 2 and 120 at Level 3.


  • Modules typically come in three sizes: 10 point modules (mainly level 1, and residential/practical courses), 30 point modules and 60 point modules.
  • Modules start and end on predetermined dates. You just start a module when you want.
  • 30 and 60 point modules normally run over 10 months (e.g. January to October).
  • 10 point modules can be completed in as short a time as 10 weeks, or as long as 20 weeks.
  • A degree normally requires you to pass a few compulsory modules, and then you make up the remaining points by choosing from a list of eligible modules.
  • You can study as many modules in a year as you have time for. I’ve easily completed two 10 point modules simultaneously. If you work full-time, studying two 30 point level 2 modules at the same time would be tough.
  • You can do modules in any order. For example, you could do a level 2 module, followed by a level 3, then back to a level 1 module. You just need to bear in mind that some of the later levels assume you have a prerequisite level of knowledge that you would have gained by doing modules at early levels.
  • All books, DVDs, etc. are provided for each module (they are included in the course fee). Well, so far (up to Level 2), I’ve never had to buy books in addition to the ones provided. I assume this is also the case for Level 3 courses.

I have been able to specialise in Astronomy by selecting all relevant modules.

Study time required

Modules are designed so that they require an equal amount of study time:

  • 1 point is equivalent to 10 hours of study.
  • So… a 60 point module should require 2 times as much study time as 30 point course.
  • A 60 point course over 10 months will require, on average, about 60 hours study time per month, or 15 hours per week.

However…it does seem to vary between courses and levels. For me, a Level 2 30 point course seemed to require as much study time as a 60 point Level 1 course.

Exams and Assessment

  • Level 1 courses typically do not have an exam:
    • A Level 1 10 point course will have one assignment at the end of the course.
    • A Level 1 60 point course will have continuous assignments throughout the 10 months.
  • Level 2 and 3 courses will have continuous assignments throughout the 10 months and an exam at the end.

For the excellent 10 month, 60 point, general science course S104 Exploring Science, I had to do 16 assignments; 7 sent in to be marked by a tutor and 9 on-line multiple choice type assignments. [Incidentally, I really do recommend this course – 8 books, each on an individual subject. For example, there is a book on chemistry, another on physics, and another on biology. Basically, an overall foundation course in science.]

For the (also excellent) 10 month, 30 point S282 Astronomy course, I had to send in 4 assignments to be marked by a tutor and then pass a 3 hour exam at the end.

Other qualifications

Along the way to getting your degree, you can gain other certificates and diplomas. For example, I am studying for (or have already gained):

The cost and how long it will take

EDIT: There are huge cost changes planned for 2012. See The End of the Open University As We Know It for more details.

EDIT 2: Due to the huge fee increases, you may need to take advantage of  The Open University Student Budget Account – a way of  borrowing course fees direct from the OU.

I have been studying gradually. I started in 2007 and I am currently about half way through my B. Sc. so the cost has been well spread out over the last 4 years.

  • A 30 point course costs £400.
  • A 60 point course costs £700.

[Based on 2011 prices]

Assuming you will do 2 x 60 point courses and 8 x 30 point courses, the total price for your degree will be £4600. If you have a day job, and don’t take any time off (I have taken several months off here and there), you could complete an honours degree in 6 or 7 years. That means the degree will cost you less than £800 per year.

Note, however, if your chosen degree requires you to earn some of your points via residential courses, this will bump up the price (as meals and accommodation are included in the price for a residential course). I recently spent a week at Observatorio Astronómico de Mallorca as part of my degree.

If you really can’t afford it… you can always just buy the course materials. Of course, you won’t have access to the Open University tutors or online resources, but the materials are good. You can also find people selling second hand books on Amazon and eBay.

Or how about trying one of these free resources? See Learning for Free: a collection of free education resources.


And yes, you can get an NUS Extra student card if you are studying with the Open University. It costs you £10, but then you can use it to, say, get free Microsoft software or discounts at various retailers.

Overseas students

The OU have recently launched a new website specifically for students from outside of the UK and Ireland:

In Summary…

I’m studying with the Open University as a hobby. I enjoy it. I’m not doing it for a career change. I’m not even really doing it to get another degree. I just like learning. And Open University has provided me with a structured way to learn new, interesting and cool stuff with excellent course materials (textbooks, DVDs, home experiment kits).

The experience has been very rewarding. I wish I’d started it as soon as I’d finished my first degree!



  1. and always remember that 2 x 30 points course are more work than 1 x 60 point course- Geoscience only has 30 point courses available, so the workload if you try to get through the degree is much higher than some other courses. Don’t I know (doing 3rd level just now).
    Also worth checking out the OU links with Professional Societies as a lot of courses are recognised ny professional bodies e.g. the Geological Society of London or the British Psychological Society, so you can enrol as a student for access to their sites.
    You alao get online access to the OU library which has a huge array of academic papers for you to look at, and if studying more than 30 points in a year you can get an NUS Extra student card.
    And if you are interested in geology, the Open University Geological Society runs fieldtrips across the UK, and you don’t have to be an OU student to join.

    • Yes, it is supposed to be 1 point = 10 hours study. That’s how they are trying to equalise courses across different disciplines.

      So far I have done one level 1 course (60 points) and one level 2 course (30 points). Including the revision for the exam, I spent far more time on the Level 2 course.
      Also, from my sample size of one level 2 course, I’d say that level 2 courses are much more difficult than Level 1 courses.

      Perhaps all 30 point courses at a given level require the same amount of work, but you can’t apply that to courses across different levels?

  2. no, it is often just how the courses are put together – for example S279 is regarded as nearly a third level course in difficulty, mainly because they previously had two courses, were told they had to reduce it to one & basically squashed all the material into the new course without losing much!
    Still, really love the courses & have met so many great people through doing the courses, i well recommend it. And in Scotland, if your income is below £20k (I believe) you get part or all of the course paid for.

  3. I’d add that DD101 is a good intro to Social Sciences– because it covers economics, politics, sociology, and psychology. (I know – they’re soft science).

    The main difference between the points and levels for me is that the level 1 courses start off with very detailed guidance notes to accompany each section of reading. For level 2 it broadens out into linking topics and themes and for level 3 it’s minimal guidance and lots of reading outside of the course – you can do as much or as little of this as you wish – but you’ll only get a first if you’ve really read around the subject.

    This year’s course has cost me £1165 this year – but it includes one week residential at Bath, Sussex, Durham etc. Mine will have ended up a lot more expensive than Kash’s– but similarly I’m only doing it for knowledge’s sake and a hobby.

  4. I’ve been studying with the OU for a couple of years, and like you Kash I’m doing it for the interest and learning. One thing that I’ve found with my course (ICT, Computing & Statistics) is there can be a big jump between the requirements of a level 1 module and a level 2 one. The introductory modules ease you in very gently and are a good introduction if you haven’t studied for a long time (although they can be too gentle if you have studied recently), but there is quite a jump in difficulty with the level 2 modules.

    That’s been my experience on the programming side anyway, although it might be different with other subjects (or I’m just not very good at programming!). Still, the OU is a great way to learn and I can see why people come back to it year after year.

  5. Thanks for the OU info!

  6. I also sent you a tweet about it. @ladyjedi on twitter. I love the OU I have been studying with it a few years now, and although i am aiming at certain degrees, I just do it because I like learning and studying. As long as I can afford it, I will get all the courses I am interested in. I ma currently doing MST326, and going to register for S282 in February. All I have to say are positive things about the OU for the moment. The only thing that I am sorry is that there will be no more residential courses. I loved those, especially meeting all these people.

  7. Cracking post. I’m studying S104 in October too. Check my blog 🙂

  8. Can you complete your degree in three years if you don’t intend on working? Just wondering if it’s feasible as I’m a stay-at-home mom.

    • If you can commit to, say, at least 30 hours a week study time, I’d say yes. Especially if the courses compliment each other.
      You would probably have to do 2 x 60 point courses simultaneously each year.

      It also depends on course timetables – courses start on fixed dates.
      And note that sometimes complementary courses are scheduled so that you finish one and then can start the next one straight away (e.g. S282 Astronomy runs January to October and then S283 Planetary Science runs November to June).

      I’d look at the degrees available and their eligible courses, see what you are interested in doing and then work which courses you can do simultaneously.

  9. Can you do a Level One and Level 2 module at the same time? My Level 1 Course’s final assessment is on May 25th but the Level 2 module begins in Feb, and both are for the same degree. I do have other higher education experience in the US, so I hope they don’t make a fuss.

  10. Hi, just wondered if anyone has done the S155 course for Natural Science, Scientific Investigatons? I know that it is an online course, using forums, etc, but just wondering exactly how it works, is elluminate a compulsory element of this course – I believe I would need headset and microphone to participate in this?

  11. I’ve just got my materials to study Y156 Understanding Children , I am working towards a BA Open Degree with honours . I have applied for Child Development a level 2 course that starts in Feb for 10 months . I would like to become a foster mummy when my 4 daughters are a little older . I feel studying relevent courses will enable me a better and fuller insight for when I start my fostering application .

    Happy studying everyone 😀 x

  12. Hi Jessica,
    Although my two children 12 and 19 have Special Needs and are at Special school and college respectively, I am hoping to study full time during the day as I do not work due to being a carer . I will be starting my first course K101 Introduction to Health and Social Care 4th February 2012, and I am very excited about it all-though obviously all the hard work will pay off in the end.
    Anyone who is on this course at the moment, or has done this course in the past-please could you tell me what IT skills you have to have before starting, and also how the group project works?
    Thank you,

  13. I am nearing the end of my BSc and so have completed quite a few modules over the year. I can only praise the OU for the quality of the training materials and support provided. For those of you wondering whether you can study multiple course at the same time and at different levels, yes, assuming you have the time and time management skills to do so. To successfully study with the OU you need commitment, self-motivation and dedication, there may be times when you hit a wall and feel as though you can’t continue but persevere, have faith and you will get there. My friends and family now look at me with a little more admiration and date I say, a little envy. Good luck.

  14. I’ve been studying part-time with the OU. I’ve done a plan up to 2014, when it would be my last year to finish the BSc Environmental Studies. I’ve recently found out that one of my 60-point intended courses, T206, was being replaced by 2 new 30-point courses, T213 and T313. This will mean that instead of having 120 credits at level 2, and 120 credits at level 3, I’ll have only 90 credits at level 2, but 150 credits at level 3. This should be accepted, as level 3 study is more difficult than level 2, but apparently it is not. This is a great disappointment, as I probably will have to do an extra 30 points at level 2, which I actually shouldn’t require. Extra-time, more money, and further away from a career change.

  15. Interestingly, the OU seems to be about to start testing some level 1 courses by examination – notably S104 (Introducing Science) and MST121 (Using Mathematics). This may be because of the problems it is having with plagiarism on the assessment papers – students are posting questions on web forums to get answers, especially with maths problems.

    It was a real problem with the MST121 module I just completed – it looks as if the OU may have to move towards conventional examination more in future…

  16. I’m starting a degree with the OU in February 2013 and I have a quick question about the study materials. I’m just wondering how far in advance of the course start date to you receive the materials? I am planning to be abroad for part of my study and I obviously need to be in the UK to receive my study materials.

    Many thanks

  17. I currently live in Sicily and wanted to start a BA in modern languages with the OU, Do they deliver the courses abroad or not? please let me know


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