Information and Communication Technology

Getting better marks in an examination

Understanding how examinations work

The aim of this page is to help you get higher marks in an examination.

You will still need to learn the subject material and apply that knowledge in the examination.

This is not a set of model answers or a magic fix that gets extra marks, but if you read this page and apply what it says you will improve your chance of getting a good grade.

The page is written with the UK examination system in mind, especially the IGCSE ICT specification, but much of the information applies to other subjects and other levels of examination as well. So if you are taking GCSEs, O' Levels, A' Levels or anything else that has a written examination, you may find this page useful.

How to work through the examination paper

Mainly for the IGCSE ICT but this applies to other examinations as well

First go through and answer all the stuff that you know straight away.

Then go through again to answer stuff you need to think about, or where you need to analyse some information or do a calculation.

Finally go through and do your best on whatever is left.

That way you will maximise your chance of getting marks on questions that you can answer, rather than waste time worrying about ones you are stuck on.

With multiple choice, if there are ones that you cannot answer have a look at how many As, Bs, Cs and Ds there are on the ones that you can. The spread is usually fairly even, so if there is a shortage of one, guess that if you don't know.

Finally, the paper gets harder from beginning to end, so if time is short, concentrate on earlier questions. Also, each question starts easy and gets harder, so again, concentrate on the first parts. That way you are more likely to pick up the simple marks rather than spend time on the hard stuff. All the marks have the same value.

For the practical examination, I would be surprised if there were no questions on databases and spreadsheets. These are regarded as being the more difficult packages to work with and are useful for setting questions for the higher grades, so practice producing database searches and reports, and spreadsheet formulae.

You should also practice taking screen captures, putting images into documents and printing. All these will be needed to produce evidence of your work and you will have more time for the actual questions if you can perform the tasks easily

Multiple choice section

Section A

In the multiple choice section, questions increase in difficulty. There are 16 questions in the section and 8 grades, so in theory the first two questions are aimed at grade G, the next two at F and so on.

Actually, although the person writing the questions aims for that gradual increase in difficulty, it may not work out that way for the students sitting the examination. It may be that a G student will be able to answer an E question but not the G ones, or a C student can answer an A question but not the D ones. A lot depends on which bits of the subject they can remember, or read about the previous day. So, even if you are stuck on some of the early questions, don't give up, you may find that the later ones are on topics that you are good at.


Written answer questions

Section B

The questions in section B increase in difficulty through the paper. They also increase in difficulty through each question. This is known as sawtooth ramping and is illustrated by the picture.

Ideally then, the first question will start with G marks and then get harder until the last bit of the first question is a C mark.

The next question then starts with F marks and gets harder up to a B mark.

As with the multiple choice questions, what really happens is that some of the weaker students are still able to answer higher graded questions, and some of the better students still make mistakes on the easy stuff.

What the sawtooth ramping means for someone answering the questions is that they should concentrate their efforts on getting the easy marks first. For a student worried about getting a C grade or above, they should aim to answer all of the first question, most of the second, the first half of the third and so on. If they can do that, it won't matter so much if they don't have time to complete the last question.

All marks are worth the same amount. The first G mark on the first question is worth just as much as the last A* mark on the last question. Students who want an A* will of course still need to answer everything.


The extended writing question

Assessing quality of written communication

These are marked on what is known as ‘indicative content' That means that the mark scheme doesn't have fixed marking points that you have to get right. Instead, there are a larger number of points which might get mentioned. The list of points is not closed, you can score marks for other sensible and relevant text.

The markers are looking for a reasoned argument about the topic. The clues should be in the question. e.g. if it asks for a discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of different types of social media. It means that to get full marks, you would need to discuss:

In addition, the discussion would need to be a discussion, preferably making comparisons, not a load of bullet points.

Having said that, markers are quite aware of how much time there is for writing the answer, so you should be able to get full marks with somewhere around three quarters of a page of writing. Provided of course that it makes sense.

As well as looking at the content, the markers must also assess how well the answer is written.

They will be looking for:

1. good spelling, punctuation and grammar.

2. appropriate use of technical terms

Don't get too concerned about this. A well balanced but badly spelled and ungrammatical discussion of the topic set will still score more than a correctly spelled and grammatically perfect load of waffle.


How not to get better marks

What not to write

If your answer to a question consists of any of these, you are not going to get a mark for it.

1. It's easier / faster / simpler / cheaper / safer. Do not use these words, or similar ones, without explaining why something is easier etc.

2. The stem of the question (that's the bit of text setting the scene that comes before the actual question), either as it stands, or rewritten in your own words. There are never any marks for repeating the stem back to the examiner. It is also a waste of your time to rewrite the question itself.

3. Bits of another question, or stem. Examiners take a lot of trouble to avoid writing questions where the question, or stem, is the answer to another question.

4. Obscure names for bits of hardware or software. Markers are often instructed to allow really well known trade names as answers. e,g, Skype instead of VoIP communication system, Firefox instead of browser software, Excel instead of a spreadsheet. BUT, (a) they may be told to mark such answers as wrong and (b) they will certainly not look up or give marks for names that are not internationally established trade names.

5. Waffle. Don't fill up the available space with rambling sentences that include every buzzword that you can think of that has anything to do with the topic of the question. It annoys markers who have to waste their time trying to make sense of it, and it wastes your time in writing it.

6. The answer to the question that you wanted but which wasn't asked. OK, you spent valuable revision time memorising answers to common questions, and then those horrible examiners asked something else. That's tough, but you have to answer the question that is asked. A perfect, correct answer to a different question is not worth any marks.

The practical examination

Each of the questions in the practical examination should have marks to cover all of the grades. However, different students are good at using different types of software, so the difficulty really depends on your ability with each package.

Each question will still start off easy and get harder.

I would be surprised if there were no questions on databases and spreadsheets. These are regarded as being the more difficult packages to work with and are useful for setting questions for the higher grades, so practice producing database searches and reports, and spreadsheet formulae.

The markers only see what you produce as a printout, so you should also practice taking screen captures, putting images into documents and printing. All these will be needed to produce evidence of your work and you will have more time for the actual questions if you can perform the tasks easily.

And don't forget to label all of your printouts and put them in the correct order when you hand them in. You could lose marks if you don't do that.

Labelling your work

This section deals with the labelling of work for practical examinations and coursework.

The IGCSE ICT has a practical examination rather than coursework, but the same advice applies in both cases.

The instructions at the beginning of the 4IT0 practical paper state.

Label your printouts clearly as instructed in each task

And

For all tasks, you MUST enter the task number, your name, candidate number and centre

number BEFORE PRINTING.

There are two main reasons for this.

1. Packs of papers have been known to arrive at the marker's house with a label saying that the packet was damaged in transit / was opened by customs. There have been times when what arrived at my house looked like it had been shuffled. If the individual sheets had not been labelled it would have been very difficult to work out which ones were from which student.

2. It reduces the amount of cheating, or at least makes it a bit harder for the students. There have been occasions, particularly in coursework, when it was obvious that one student's work was simply a duplicate printout of someone else's. Having to put individual details on each sheet BEFORE PRINTING. makes it harder for students to do that. It also makes it much easier for examination centres to spot that the wrong student is picking up a printout.

Sometimes the instructions on an individual question will be more specific, i.e. enter details in a header. This may be a separate marking point. i.e. for being able to create / use a header. It may also be to stop you from putting the details in the wrong place. e.g. if the question asks for a screen capture to be put into a word processed document as an image. The examiner may not want the student's details to be part of the image, so the document header is specified instead.

So what happens if the details are missing?

That depends on the specification and instructions to markers.

If it's a big piece of coursework and just the odd page is missing it's details, markers will usually be able to ignore it. Especially if it's on a diagram page or some other item that wasn't part of the main, word processed document.

If it's an examination, like 4IT0 / 02, you will almost certainly lose marks.

Remember that someone has to mark it all

Well almost all, the multiple choice part of the examination can be marked by machine.

For anything that will be marked on-line, that's paper 1 of the IGCSE ICT and many other papers as well, it is essential that you:

What will be in the next paper

If you're wanting to find out what the actual questions are going to be, this isn't going to be much help.

The paper's content is only known to a small number of people, and they are unlikely to tell you.

If you just want to know what topics are likely to turn up, then there ways to find out. It will involve a bit of work and a supply of previous papers.

Firstly, you can simply work your way through every past paper, and mark scheme, that has been written. This will certainly help you to learn about the subject, and you should be able to spot which items turn up most frequently.


The problem with the IGCSE ICT is that, for the 2014, there are only three past papers and one exemplar paper, so this method is of limited use. If you're a teacher, preparing for the long term, start keeping track of questions now. If you're a student, then you're out of luck.

The second method is more broad, it only gives Learning Objectives (LOs), not specific topics.

It involves knowing just one piece of information. All LOs must be examined within a certain number of examinations. i.e. the person writing the examination has to include a question on each LO at some point.

The number of examinations varies from course to course, some have more LOs than others. But it is always true that the longer it has been since an LO has been examined, the more likely it is to turn up next time.

Conversely, if an LO was examined last time it is less likely to turn up next time. So don't prepare for last year's exam, it won't be that helpful.

Of course, there are still going to be some LOs that will turn up in just about every examination. e.g. systems, networks, hardware and software. That's because it's difficult to write an ICT question scenario that doesn't involve at least one of those.

How the marking is done

Pearson, and most other examining boards use four types / categories of marking.

1. Computer marked. These can be with an optical mark reader, sometimes an optical character reader, and is the method used for most multiple choice examinations.

2. Clerical. This is for questions where there is only one, or possibly a very short list, of correct answers. e.g. a 4IT0 multiple choice question can only have one correct answer. This type of marking does not require the marker to know anything about the subject, so markers can work on a several different examinations.

3. Some subject knowledge required. This is for questions where there is some freedom in how the student may express an answer. e.g. stating three Internet services. The mark scheme will have a list of services, but the student will probably not not have them in the same order and may use slightly different words to describe a service. The marker needs to be familiar with the subject so that they can recognise acceptable answers.

4. Expert subject knowledge required. This is for anything that does not fall into the previous categories. The markers will have a good knowledge of the subject and will often be, or have been, an examination writer.

How examinations are written

and why they are nearly always correct

In the UK, examination writing must comply with a code of conduct agreed between the examination boards and the government.

This means that every paper goes through a similar set of stages and checks before it ends up in front of you at the examination.

There are hundreds of different papers produced every year, each involving a team of people who write, review, check, discuss and argue about the content until they all agree. Amazingly, and despite what some news media like to claim, this process works and there are very few mistakes in the published papers. Of course, if an error does make it through, it becomes national news, which in a way shows how rarely it happens.


So, if you think there is a mistake in a question when you are doing the exam, it is quite likely that you have misread or misunderstood something. In any event, try not to get worried by it. If it is still possible to answer the question, do so. If there really is a mistake, it will be allowed for when the papers are marked.

If you think that the mistake makes it impossible to answer, leave the question and carry on with the rest. If there really is a mistake, it will be allowed for when the papers are marked. If there isn't a mistake, you couldn't get the right answer anyway, so you may as well use the time on other questions.

How grades are awarded

Whether you pass or fail an examination, and what grade you get, is decided by an Awarding Committee. The people on the committee will look at examples of scripts with different marks and make a judgement as to what grade they are worth.

The decision will also be influenced by a statistical analysis of the marks and comparison with similar papers from previous examinations.

Only a selection of scripts will be seen, and not all grade boundaries will be looked at, some will be decided mathematically based on those that are.

Is it worth appealing a poor grade

If you don't get the grade you wanted, is it worth appealing?

There are two common types of appeal, clerical and re-mark.

The clerical appeal just asks for the marks to be checked for accuracy in adding them up, the re-mark involves a senior marker, usually the person who wrote the examination, re-marking the script.

Markers do make mistakes, they can miss out questions when adding up or just get their sums wrong. However, an increasing number of papers are now marked on-line, with the marks being collected and added automatically by the computer system. This includes the IGCSE ICT paper 1.

If you take an examination that is marked on-line, a clerical check would be a waste of money.

Other papers are still marked by hand though, including the IGCSE ICT paper 2. With these papers, if you think your marks are a long way out, a clerical check may be worth while.

A complete re-mark can be done on both on-line and hand marked papers, but is it worth it?

You must remember that marks can go down as well as up during a re-mark.

If your mark is just below a grade boundary, it may only take an extra one or two marks to go up a grade. But, the same applies to going down a grade if you are just above a boundary.

I won't try to claim that markers don't make mistakes, we're human so of course we do, but there is a lot of double checking of marking. I've carried out hundreds of re-marks over the years and not many scripts have gained enough marks to improve the grade.

Of course, ICT is a fairly objective subject. Questions usually have a limited selection of correct answers. This makes it easier for markers to get things right themselves. Other subjects are more subjective, with correctness being more a matter of opinion. e.g. a painting in an art exam may appeal to one marker more than it does to another. I'm sure that there are ways of dealing with that sort of thing but I don't know enough about it to comment.

You passed! Now what?

Further ICT qualifications

Under the UK qualifications system, an IGCSE pass is either level 1 or level 2.

Level 1 is for pass grades D to G, Level 2 is for A* to C.

If you want to make a career in ICT and / or take further courses, you really need to get the Level 2.

Once you have your grade A* to C, you can look to take further Level 2 courses or move on to Level 3.

Level 3 could be e.g. GCE A' Level, the International Baccalaureate (IB), Business and Technology Education Council (BTECs) Level 3, or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) Level 3.

Level 2 could be e.g. other IGCSEs / GCSEs with an ICT content, BTEC Level 2, or NVQ Level 2.

The GCE A' Level / IB route is more commonly used by those students who are aiming for a university place. The BTEC / NVQ route is more commonly used by students who want a more practical based course leading to professional ICT qualifications.

There are relatively few GCE A' Level / IB courses available, essentially one per examinations board. They tend to be theory based, with some practical, and they cover a broad range of ICT topics. There is no follow-on course.

Experience has shown that students who get C grade at IGCSE usually struggle to do well at A' Level.

There are probably a hundred or so BTEC / NVQ courses but you will need to take several of them to get the equivalent of an A' Level. They tend to be practical based with some theory and each one covers a fairly limited set of skills. There are follow-on BTECs and NVQs that will take you all the way up to a degree level qualification, although these tend to be highly specialised and are often taken as part of career progression once you have started employment.

Even if you get an A* at IGCSE, you may still need to start BTECs / NVQs at Level 2, depending on what you wish to specialise in.


FAQs

questions from the guestbook that may be of interest to others

1. Q. Should you first see the question number and then judge for what candidate grade the question had been set. This is very useful in any edexcel exams. If the question had been set for a E candidate I normally expect to write simpler answers - no need much brainstorming.

A. That is certainly a possibility, but bear in mind that F and G questions will often be 'closed'. e.g. they involve ticking boxes, joining terms to definitions with lines. Not much brainstorming required.


2. Q. If a question asks us to write ONE reason can we write two CORRECT ones and get full marks? And if one is IGNORABLE and the other one CORRECT can we get fullmarks?

A. Depends on the mark scheme and advice to markers.

In general, you are better off giving the correct number of answers in the right place.

If you give extra answers for a question, if the extra ones are ignorable, i.e. correct but not what was asked for, they will be ignored. The risk is that one of the extra answers is just wrong. In which case, depending on marking advice, the wrong answer may be marked first, or the first answer(s) only may be looked at. It is very unlikely that markers will simply try and pick correct answers out of a load of extra ones.


3. Q. If they ask us TWO reasons - will we get fullmarks if we write two reasons in one and a NEUTRAL one in our second answer?

A. This depends on how the markers see the answers. With on-line marking, it is possible that each part of the answer will be seen by a different marker. In which case, in the scenario you have given, you would only get one mark. If one marker sees both parts, then they may be allowed to give both marks, depending on marker advice for this sort of situation. It's a bit like Q2, giving three answers for a two answer question.


4. Q.Today was the first day of the practical exam window. Has anyone done the exam? What came?

A. That sort of question is against the examination regulations.

It's OK to:

speculate about questions before the exam window opens

discuss the paper after the exam window closes

discuss previous papers / example questions

discuss material officially sent out as pre-release information.

It's NOT OK to discuss live papers until after the exam window closes.

Lots of students do discuss live papers, that's one of the problems with having an examination window. BUT, the examining boards know about that and they keep an eye on what is being discussed in student forums and similar sites. Action has been taken against students in the past.


5. Q.How I can get an offline version of these notes! possibly a pdf with all notes?

A. Sorry, you can't. The ebook contains lots of pages which have literally hundreds of internal and external hyperlinks. The only way it works is on a web site. There's also the problem of new versions. I'm in the process of updating all the notes, adding extra material, and extra links. I suspect that I'll need to do it again later this year in order to keep things up to date. And finally, visits to, and searches for a page raises it's status on search engines. That makes it easier for others to find, and therefore more useful.


6. Q. I've got large handwriting and sometimes even messy handwriting with nasty cancellations. Now, my friends say that because of my handwriting I won't get the grades I deserve. The examiners will either not read my work or will just give a random mark and not what I actually deserve. If one has poor handwriting then how does the examiner deal with it?

A. There are several points here.

Firstly, cancellations / crossing out answers. If you have replaced crossed out work with another answer, that is what will be marked. If you have not replaced the crossed out work, the marker will try to read it and award marks if they are there.

Secondly, large handwriting. The only problem with that is if the writing goes out of the allotted space. See point 3 of Remember that someone has to mark it all.

Thirdly, messy handwriting. If it's legible it will be marked. If it's not legible it will be flagged for review, which means that a senior examiner will look at it. They will have access to the complete paper and thus may be able to pick up clues as to what a squiggle means from what has been written for other, more legible, answers. If the answer is still illegible, it scores no marks.

7. Q. Could you please give a good model answer of a 6 mark question. Like they may give a 6 mark question on let's say 'discuss the effects of ict on organizations'. So we are supposed to give points for pros and cons and now a conclusion. What should I write for the conclusion?

A. The extended writing question is discussed further up this lens at The extended writing question.

Model answers are not really much use for extended writing questions because:

(a) the question is always set in a specific context. You will not get into the higher mark bands if your answer does not match that context and a model answer is unlikely to do so.

(b) examining boards use anti-plagiarism software and markers tend to notice when the same answer turns up repeatedly. If by chance you do happen to have a model answer that does match the context, it is likely that other people have it as well and it may trigger an enquiry

(c) conclusions for extended writing questions need to address specific point(s) from the question. A model answer, even in the right context, is unlikely to do so.

Finally (d), if I write a model answer here, it is likely to turn up in several answer papers and will probably be spotted.


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