Exam Tips

How to pass the VCE IT exam

(Or at least a few tips that might come in handy)

DISCLAIMER

I am not an examiner.
I have not marked VCAA exams.
I do not know this year’s exam questions.

EXTRA INFORMATION ABOUT HOW MARKERS TEND TO MARK PAPERS – 14 November 2011

  • If a question asks for (say) 2 reasons, or 2 factors, and you give 3 points, markers will read all the points given and award marks if 3 good points are given. In other words, the marker tries to find marks for you. So if you are asked for 2 points, and your first point is wrong, but you then gives 2 good points, you can still get two marks.
  • Markers are not asked to stop reading answers after the requested number of points has been given, so you can write a load of rubbish and still get full marks if you somehow get to the correct stuff by the end. Of course this is to be avoided – it will waste your valuable time!
  • The point above does not always apply. In some questions in some years, markers will NOT search for valid points in a pile of rubbish in order to give away marks. It’s possible that markers may be asked to find marks for the top kids and not to give away easy marks for the weak students in order to get a better spread across the range.
  • If a question asks for a “List and Describe”, it will be marked 1+1=2 marks.
  • If asked for 2 points and you give 2 points
  • 2 marks generally means 2 points need to be made, or a good point with a good reason for it.
  • 2 marks for a “discuss…” question can also indicate you have to give a point from each side of the discussion (and if you gave 2 points from the same side of the discussion, you only get 1 mark)
  • If asked for 2 points and you give 3…
    • if is blatantly wrong, or contradicts of of the two other good points, you cannot get full marks
    • if one is wrong, but does not contradict the other two, you can get full marks
    • if one is weak due to obvious cluelessness (“NFI” syndrome) you cannot get full marks
  • If the number of points required is not given (e.g. “Suggest why this strategy is not going to be effective.”) sometimes, two marks is taken to mean 3 points are required if the points are really obvious.

Want to know the secret of how to pass the IT exam? Here goes, in brief…

The IT Lecture Notes’ Golden Rule: use common sense.

  • know the meanings of IT words and concepts in the ITA section or SD section of the study design and its glossary. More particularly, know the subtle differences between similar words (e.g. bit vs byte)
  • if given a case study, your answer must be relevant to that organisation, not for any old organisation.
  • if you can think of various options, choose the best option, not just the first option you thought of
  • read the question carefully and work out exactly what it wants you to do before you start writing
  • identify the verb of the question and obey it: if asked to list, simply give the names of things. If asked to “explain” or “describe”, give detail, examples, reasons.
  • use IT terms like “data” and “efficiency” and “hard disk” properly
  • do not be irrelevant, vague and waffly. Answer succinctly. Explain yourself when necessary. Don’t try to bluff.
  • answer the question you were asked, not the one you wished you’d been asked

The exam is your way of showing how much you know about IT. The examiners do not deliberately try to trick or confuse you (but they often do accidentally confuse people.) They are really keen that you do as well as you can.

Work out the key knowledge that each question is fishing for and demonstrate your knowledge of it to the marker. If the question is ambiguous, unclear or vague, guess what the examiner was probably hoping to try to say and give that key knowledge.

SWAT VAC AND BEFORE

You must have a study and revision method that works for you. Don’t worry about how other people learn best. You do what works best for you. Now is not the time to be experimenting with “interesting” exam preparation fads.

If you know you learn best by reading and writing, read and write your notes with a pen. If you learn best by typing, type. If you learn best by listening, record your notes onto tape and listen to them over and over.

Many students believe music helps them study. Sometimes that is true. I find music with lyrics is really distracting if I’m trying to learn text stuff. Try music with no lyrics, not too loud either. Have you ever tried Gregorian chants as background music? It’s actually quite soothing when you’re stressed.

TIP: If you really want to know if you understand something, teach it to your mother, grandfather or little sister. As soon as you get a confused “Huh?” from them, you know you need to study some more. If you can’t explain it, you don’t really understand it.

Look at previous and practice exams both old and more recent. Work on them under exam conditions, with a strict time limit. Compare your answers with the solutions. If you find you’re way off track with an answer, you know what you need to do more research on. Even if you can’t put aside 2 hours for a full paper, set yourself 10 minutes for a 5 mark question.

You should build a personal summary of the key knowledge in the Areas of Study in the course: a brief outline of the main concepts, key words, and examples. Do not try to plough through your textbook once a week. Daily refreshing of your neurons is far more effective in establishing long-term memory. Weekly “pig outs” on huge quantities of material will not only leave you mentally exhausted after the first hour, but will evaporate quickly in the next two days.

You’ll also be so discouraged that you’ll do anything to avoid returning to that subject.

If you know you have trouble with certain concepts or words, write (or draw) a really good typical example of it that you can remember easily.  A brief, concrete example of each will be far more memorable than an abstract paragraph full of words.

Do not try to memorise paragraphs of text. Learn concepts. You will not be asked to recite paragraph 3 on page 115 of your textbook. You will be asked to put knowledge to practical use.

Know the difference between easily-confused words: effectiveness vs efficiency, data vs information, testing criteria vs testing methods.

Learn basic IT terminology and use IT words carefully. Referring to a 3.5″ disk as a “hard disk” or saying “He should get more megs” will earmark you as a complete doofus. Start your own personal glossary of words you know you have trouble with. For each word, define it (or use an example of it) so you understand what it means. Never work with notes you don’t really understand. You’re wasting your time. Go back, learn the basics, then come back to the notes.

You are not expected to be an engineer, but you should have a good general knowledge of computer-related topics. You won’t be expected to know the structure of TCP/IP packets, but you will be expected to know what a webpage is, and how you can make a good one. You should know: a web site, a browser, web server, email, virus, hard disk, laser printer, monitor, software vs hardware, scanners, operating systems, application software, utilities, USB ports, modems, CD-ROM, RAM, megabyte, wireless networking – that sort of thing. Remember that you will probably not be asked “What is RAM?” but a question could well use the word “RAM” and you will be expected to know what it means so you can answer the question.

On the day before and the morning of an exam, don’t break routine. Don’t go to bed at 6pm aiming to be super-bright in the morning. You’ll probably wake up at 3am and not be able to get back to sleep. Don’t have a massive breakfast if you usually have a light breakfast. You don’t want to discover for the first time during an exam that your bowels can’t handle porridge, bacon, Fruit Loops and muesli.

Do NOT try studying until 3am on the morning of the exam: if you’re not already up-to-speed, this will be useless. Studying at such hours is only about 2% effective anyway. Go to bed. Pretend you’re on a tropical island until you get to sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning, stop thinking “exam”. Think of something quite dull, e.g. shelling peas, mowing the lawn, your favourite episode of Gilligan’s Island.

Your IT exam is at 3pm. What are you usually doing at 3pm? Is your brain in a dozy state and do you always veg out for an hour after getting home? Are you alert and active? If you are dozy and flat at 3pm, practise doing heavy brain work at 3pm for a while before the exam. Get your body clock into training for working instead of turning off and having a snooze.

Make sure you know when and where the exam will be held. Don’t miss half the exam because your mate Fred said it was at X o’clock. It is very embarrassing to turn up at the wrong venue too. You do not get extra time if you arrive late. Stupidity is not a grounds for “consideration of disadvantage.”

BEFORE YOU WALK IN TO THE EXAM

Go to the toilet. Go twice if necessary. Deal with other bodily needs too. You don’t want an urgent toilet trip in the exam to break your concentration and waste writing time.

Make sure you have a grey-lead pencil and a sharpener for the multiple choice section. You are also allowed to take in pens, highlighters, erasers and a ruler. Take plenty of spares!

Have a reliable watch to prop up on the table in front of you so you can better keep track of time.

Have your own tissues if you have the sniffles. Hell. Take ’em even if you’re feeling fine.

You must have a greylead pencil (no fainter than HB) for the multiple choice section.

You are not allowed to take in :

  • mobile phones (or any other communication device)
  • calculators (except for a scientific calculator in SD)
  • computers (unless you have been approved)
  • dictionaries (even if you are in ESL)
  • cheat sheets, books, notes, blank paper
  • white-out liquid or tape

Clever people might even sharpen their pencils before the exam, and bring a spare pencil or spare leads for a mechanical pencil. You will probably also want a ruler or Mathomat in case you’re asked to draw a chart or design a page, or do a DFD etc. Just don’t spend half an hour trying to produce works of art.

Make sure you know your VCAA student number.

Read the instructions carefully on how to mark the multiple choice answer sheet. Get it wrong and the machine won’t be able to read your answers. If you’re lucky, a human will notice the problem and fix it by hand.

DURING READING TIME

You are not allowed to handle a pen or highlighter during reading time. Put it down! You are definitely NOT allowed to use your fingernail to mark the exam paper.

Read actively. Don’t just skim without paying attention. Read ALL the questions before you answer any of them. Read the instructions carefully. If you are told to “answer 2 of the following 6 parts”, work out which two you will tackle. Look for landmark words like “data” or “information”, “efficiency” or “effectiveness”. Raise a mental warning flag when you reach such key words and pay very careful attention. Misreading a question could lead to a 100% wrong answer.

Be on the lookout for multi-part questions. Many questions will be multi-part with instructions on what you are meant to do. Look for key words in the instructions like “and” & “or”. e.g. “Answer part A or part B”, “Choose one of the following…”

If you are told to give (for example) TWO reasons, give the number of reasons asked for. While the marker will keep reading extra points looking for relevant responses, you are wasting your time. Think through your answer first, identify the correct number of important relevant points and write them down.

Furthermore, excessive writing can be hazardous. If you give more than the required number of points but one is really bad or contradicts one of the good points you made, you will not get your full marks! Cluelessness is punished.

If you choose more than one option in a multiple choice question, you get no marks.

Pay very careful attention to the stems or verbs in questions: they are not chosen at random. Learn the difference between these question stems:

  • outline – give a broad, brief summary without much detail
  • list – give the names of. That’s ALL! Don’t describe, don’t explain, don’t give examples. Just give their names.
  • sketch/draw – draw a picture!
  • explain – provide reasons for something
  • justify – defend your decision about something with good reasons
  • recommend – choose the best option from a set of possibilities (if based on a case study, make sure your recommendation is appropriate to that particular case!)
  • describe – give a detailed account of something
  • analyse – critically discuss the component parts of something

Look at previous exams to see what sorts of stems are used in questions, and check the examiners’ reports to see what the examiners thought about students’ answers to those questions.

Plan your time. The number of marks for each question is given to you. Give each question the time appropriate for how many marks it is worth (about 1.3 minutes per mark). Writing half a page for one mark is foolish.

The length of each answer, and the amount of detail you should go into, are suggested by the number of lines provided in the exam book. Examiners have complained in the past that students do not explain things in enough detail.

The examiners reported on the 2000 exam: “Generally, students should be urged to write longer responses when asked in a question to ‘explain’ or ‘justify’. Many students did not provide enough detail to obtain full marks. For example, students would be expected to provide more than a one-sentence response to a question worth 4 marks that warranted an explanation or justification.

DURING WRITING TIME

On the front cover of the exam book, fill in your student number in digits and words, for example…

examtips-studnum

Keep an eye on the clock. Ration your time strictly according to the value of the questions.

2016 Note – the Informatics exam format has changed. React appropriately!

The (old) IT Applications exam, for example, has 90 marks and you have 120 minutes: allocate about 1.3 minutes per question. You might find the multiple choice are quicker to answer because there’s no writing. You might allocate 1 minute to each of the multiple choices (spending the time to very carefully read the question and options… they can be quite tricky!) . This will leave 100 minutes for the remaining 70 marks: about 1.4 minutes per mark (e.g. a 3 mark question would deserve 4.2 minutes)

In Informatics, allocate equal time for 1 mark in both sections B and C.

IN ALL QUESTIONS: Read each question at least twice before answering it. Look for key words like data, information, criterion, method. Let them raise red warning flags in your head.

Tip: after deciding on an answer, imagine a trusted teacher/friend whispers into your ear “Have you read the question properly, you complete and utter idiot?” Look back to the question and try to find where you might have forgotten or mis-read a key piece of information.

If you can’t see anything wrong – great! You are probably correct (and move onto the next answer).

If you suddenly shiver and think “O, Dog. I didn’t notice that” – read the question yet again and formulate a new answer. Or stubbornly decide to use your original answer and acknowledge that you are irremediably stupid and should start choosing a different career path as soon as this exam is finished.

1. Part A – Multiple Choice Section (Informatics, SD)

The first section of the exam is multiple choice, to be completed on mark sense cards. Make sure you have a grey-lead pencil!

Look for the MOST CORRECT answer. Don’t settle for the FIRST one that COULD be right… there might be a more correct answer later. e.g.

What data type is “4 August 2004” – <A> Text,<B> Alphanumeric, <C> Numeric, <D> Date/Time?

If you chose “Alphanumeric” you would be technically correct, but the better, more precise answer is Date/Time. You would not get a mark for choosing <B>.

Multiple choice questions are famous for “distractor” options that suck in stupid and careless people, or those who don’t read carefully. Often, options will be VERY similar and need some thought to tell the right from the wrong. In multiple choice, the time saved answering the question should be invested in READING the question more carefully. Don’t answer on impulse – a question that looks easy can be deceptively tricky if you consider it properly!

2. Part B – Short Answer Questions (Informatics, SD)

Read the questions carefully, looking for key words like “List”, “Describe”, “Justify” and make sure you do what you’re asked to do.

Look for important words like how many examples to provide, “and” / “or” because some questions are complex. Set your answer out in a table if it helps you. e.g. “Describe the benefits and disadvantages of the new hardware and software” means 4 things to talk about. Set it out in a table with columns “benefits” and “disadvantages” and rows “hardware” and “software”.

Think out what the MOST important thing is you have to say – DO NOT START WRITING until you’ve worked this out. Put down your most important point first, then the next most important etc. Don’t waste writing time on trivial or arguable points.

Put down points even if they seem bloody obvious. Don’t say “Hmmm, OBVIOUSLY (this point) applies, but that’s TOO obvious – I’ll have to think of something more difficult”. Sometimes, the bloody obvious is exactly the right answer.

Get to the point and stay on the point. When you’ve finished, stop writing and move on. Just writing words does NOT get marks – only relevant words count.

If asked for a number of things, only provide that number of things: writing fewer loses marks; giving more is a waste of your time. Think first, write later. The exam is a test of your thinking, not your writing powers. If you write without thinking, you are not showing your understanding of the course… and that’s exactly why you’re sitting in that exam. You do not get bonus marks for filling in all of the blank lines. You get marks for relevant, knowledgeable responses to questions.

Pay special attention to words you tend to confuse, e.g. effectiveness and efficiency. Data and info. Acquisition and input. If you don’t read the question properly, everything you write could be a complete waste of time.

Jot down key points of your answer in point form before writing it out, especially if you have to choose which options you should discuss.

Write LEGIBLY (so your writing can be read)

Write in PLAIN ENGLISH, not some cone-headed, SMS-befuddled version of our mother-tongue. Use short sentences and make every word count. Do NOT try to impress the marker with fancy expression or talking like a lawyer in court – you’ll just screw things up and sound like an idiot. Say what you need to say QUICKLY and CLEARLY. Get out of there and go on to the next question.

I know that when I read answers, I say “Thank DOG!” when someone nails the main point in the first few words – the rest is often a good example or some elaboration on the main point. In my head, they immediately get full marks with those first few words, and will only lose marks if they go on to say something DUMB.

If you strike a question that makes you think “WHAT THE…??”, settle down and try to think it through calmly. If you still can’t work it out, try to say something relevant. If you find the question vague or ambiguous, you may need to explain your interpretation. e.g. on last year’s exam, the term “end date” in Question 9c was very confusing to some people. You could have said, “If ‘end date’ means the date of the final milestone, there will be a XX day delay”, or “If ‘end date’ means the last possible day of work, there will be XX delay.” Let the examiners know what you’re thinking and your explanation may at least get partial marks.

Some case studies offer very little information for you to use to make decisions and recommendations. This is where saying something like “If they had ‘X’ then I’d recommend Option A because … otherwise I’d recommend Option B because …”

By the way, “letting the examiners know what you’re thinking” does not include comments like, “I’m tired and I had a bad year and my teacher was horrible to me so can I pass please?”

Do not copy out or repeat the question! Just answer it!

If you are asked, “Give two reasons why email attachments should be limited in size” do not say, “Email attachments should be limited in size because blah blah blah…”

Only the words after “because” will earn marks!

If necessary, use headings to identify what portion of a question you are answering. e.g. If asked

What economic and technological benefits might the organisation aim for?

You might say:

Economic: blah blah blah

Technological: blah blah blah

Note that most of the time, the examiners provide separate labelled spaces for answering each section of a multipart question.

Just because you got an elephant stamp and a warm smile from your grade 4 teacher because you always answered in full sentences does not mean you should do it in the IT exam.
GET STRAIGHT TO THE ANSWER … don’t repeat the question!
Summarise in your head what your main point is before you set pen to paper. If you can’t summarise it in your head, you can’t write it, and you’ll just be wasting ink and time.

If you start running out of time, answer in point form. Saying something about each question is better than saying nothing.

If you have absolutely NO CLUE what an answer is, you’d be better off skipping it than hoping that a random answer might magically hit the spot. It’s probably a waste of writing time. Go on to a question you are more confident with. Come back to it if inspiration strikes you later.

Be aware that the questions start off short and easy and get more valuable and bigger as the paper goes on. Don’t run out of time before you reach the “big mark” questions.

Take a deep breath and relax. Avoid freaking out and doing something silly.

If you come across a word you’re unfamiliar with, try working it out logically by the context of the question. e.g. “manipulation” is a synonym for “processing”. “Folder” is the same as “directory”. A question on health and safety that uses the acronym “OH&S” is probably “something Health and Safety”. (It’s “occupational” in case you were wondering.) Use common sense!

As soon as reading time finishes, you might want to jot down things you know you have trouble memorising e.g. the info processing cycle stages. Once jotted down, you won’t have to keep them in memory them while formulating complex answers to questions.

3. Part C – Case study (SD and… yes… Informatics! Shock news for 2016)

All questions must be answered with reference to the case study. Answers that are not applicable to the case study (even though they may be technically correct in a different circumstance) will be deemed to be incorrect.

AFTER THE EXAM

Avoid the “post mortem” discussions after you get out of the exam room. “

What did you say for question 2? REALLY? That’s odd, I said…”

Such discussions will only depress you before your next exam, or ruin your mood for the post-exam parties. Forget it all. There’s nothing you can do that will change the exam answers. Move on.

Good Luck

But remember, getting an A+ is not luck: it’s a whole year of preparation and study.

Last modified – 2015-11-23, 13:02