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Guidance on Written Examination Papers

Guidance on Written Examination Papers

Examiners take into account the following factors when creating an exam paper.

  • Covering a wide range of the specification without going beyond the stated content.
  • Avoiding concentration on one particular area of the specification.
  • Varying the nature of the questions over a period of time.
  • Meeting the needs of the assessment objectives.
  • Ensuring accessibility and readability for the target group of candidates.
  • Designing questions which can be marked consistently by the examining teams.

The examples given below illustrate the point under consideration. They are often taken from the specimen questions but these may have been modified to emphasise a specific point.

The Key Words in a Question

There is a list of acceptable answers in the mark scheme. However whilst the setters of the question papers are bound by the specification the candidates' answers are not. A correct response should gain the stipulated number of marks.


The manager of each shop uses a mail-merge process to produce reminders for each customer that owes money on account. Generic application software is used for this task.

Give two advantages of using generic application software rather than a tailor-made software package in the running of a newsagent’s shop.[2]

The mark scheme might say that acceptable answers are readily available software and the software is tried and tested. However the candidate writes down that the software has a large user base so there are many users to give help and advice. The candidate's answer is just as correct and should be given credit.

In some cases the question will tell the candidates how many responses are required. The candidate should not give more, or less, than the required number of answers.



Describe two facilities available on an electronic mail (e-mail) system.     [4]

The mark scheme asks for any two of the answers:


  • forward messages (1) to another recipient (1)
  • multiple recipients (1) mailed to simultaneously (1)
  • hold delivery (1) until predetermined time (1)
  • auto-acknowledgement (1) from recipient (1)
  • blind copying (1) to suppress recipients (1)


Clearly if the candidate gives only a single description then the two marks for the second description will not be available. Also if the candidate gives more than two descriptions then time has been wasted since the candidate can not gain more than four marks for the question.

In some cases the questions will ask the candidate to give a long answer. The candidate would be advised to look at the mark required by the question and to make at least that number of different points in answer to the question.



A trainer uses a software package to design and produce a presentation for use in a training workshop. The presentation consists of slides that are projected on to a screen during the workshop. The software provides the use of

Master slide, Transition, Buttons, Hotspot, and Slideshow

Explain how these features may be used to present an effective presentation.   [10]

The number of marks allocated points the candidate to the number of statements in the answer.




The candidate has to make a simple statement of fact. This is the only time a one word answer would be acceptable.


A "'spreadsheet package can be used to manipulate data held in tables. For example, data can be sorted.

State three data manipulation functions, other than ‘sort’, commonly available on a spreadsheet. [3]

The answer should be three from: filter, search, index, look-up.

A single word from this list is all that is required. Other correct answers are possible and the candidate would gain marks from these. .






The candidate has to provide the marker with more information than a mere single word statement.


Head office is worried about the increasing possibility of crime since the company has also decided to provide on-line services on the internet.

Give two examples of ICT crime.             [2]


The candidate's answers should include two statements from:

  • fraudulent use of data
  • hacking into restricted files
  • intercepting credit card details

Just putting the one word answer 'fraud' down would not gain any marks since the candidate has not told us what the fraud is related to.

Other correct answers are possible and the candidate would gain marks from these.




The candidate has to demonstrate the ability to select an answer which is appropriate to the question and context within which the question is phrased. A description is worth at least two marks depending upon how complex it is.


Describe the main features of a spreadsheet package which allows models to be set up.

The answer should relate everything to the ability of the spreadsheet to perform modelling tasks. Features of a spreadsheet, such as rows and columns, are not relevant.


A word-processing package is used by both a technical author and an offive secretary. The author uses it to produce scientific books, the secretary for letters to customers.

(a) Describe two features of the word-processing package that would be important to the author but not necessarily to the secretary. [4]

(b) Describe two features of the word-processing package that would be important to the secretary but not necessarily to the author.                       [4]


The answers to part (a) should include any two of thesaurus, special symbols, technical dictionary, page numbering and autoformat for subheadings.

For part (b) the answers could include any two of mail-merge, standard letter templates, images (the author would not put images in - the publisher would).

The candidate would be awarded marks for stating what the feature was e.g. thesaurus and for describing what it was used for e.g. looking up synonyms of words.

Other correct answers are possible and the candidate would gain marks from these.



The candidate has to provide both advantages and disadvantages to show both sides of an argument in the specified situation.


A newsagent’s shop has at least two electronic tills, including a processor and file storage, linked to a local file server in the shop.

Whenever prices change or offers occur, updates are made on the local server, which then sends data to the tills. Only the manager of the shop is allowed to update the prices, not the sales assistants. Every few minutes the tills send data to the local server giving details of the sales.

Explain the advantages and disadvantages of each electronic till having its own processor and backing store.                [4]


The candidate's answers should include


  • faster access to data
  • individual record at each till in event of failure


  • more expensive hardware
  • server does not always have totally up-to-date data

The candidate should give an answer which will give the good and bad points of a situation.

Information provided as advantages should not be repeated as negative facts under disadvantages.






Explain the advantages and disadvantages of digital and analogue watches.


Advantage: The digital watch does not need winding up.

Disadvantage: The analogue watch needs winding up.

Other correct answers are possible and the candidate would gain marks from these.



A discussion is an extension of an explain-type answer but the candidate also has to include a relevant conclusion.


Many of a newsagent’s customers are gaining access to the internet. This allows them to read a wide range of on-line newspaper’s and magazines.

Discuss the increasing availability of on-line newspapers and magazines.   [8]


The answers expected include a discussion of both the advantages and disadvantages. Themes for discussion are:

  • Up-to-date news
  • global news not just national news
  • less chance of bias e.g. state control of media
  • undermining of censorship laws
  • levelling out of style to fit browser displays
  • less capital needed to publish
  • more variety of reading
  • greater access to marketplace
  • copyright of images/texts harder to police
  • multi-media
  • hyperlinks to follow threads
  • not easily portable
  • feel of real paper lost
  • links with TV and other media
  • less need for traditional newsagent
  • automated cuttings services
  • customised newspapers


With a statement in conclusion which gives the view of the candidate.

Other correct answers are possible and the candidate would gain marks from these.


Using Source Material

The candidate may have to use a scenario created by the question in order to provide an answer.

Questions such as With reference to' or 'Relating your answers to ABC pic' give specific instructions to the candidates and answers to questions containing these phrases should be related to the scenario.


A newsagent’s shop is one in a chain of 500 shops. Each shop typically offers for sale supplies of twelve daily newspapers, six Sunday papers with supplements and eighty monthly magazines. Details of each newspaper are held on the computer in a flat file with fixed length records. The primary key in each record is a two-character code representing the title of thee newspaper or magazine.


There would then follow a number of questions related to this scenario. The scenario may reflect a real situation or not as the case may be. Even if the candidate has never come across the given scenario it should be used since this is what is done at the present. Each question should be answered within the context of the scenario. General answers should not be given.

Expressing an opinion

Higher order questions, where a large number of marks are available, expect the candidate to express (and maybe justify) an opinion.

These are more open-ended questions and candidates need to think carefully about how to structure their answers to obtain all the marks available.

The use of examples and fully developed responses considering all aspects of the question asked is often essential if candidates are to convince the examiner that they understand the topic.

At no time will a question be asked such as What do you think ...' This is because the answer must always be correct since it is the candidate's opinion!