by Mark Kelly - VCE Applied Computing, VCE Data Analytics, VCE Software Development

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A detailed guide to taking VCE IT exams

Using questions from VCAA's 2020 Data Analytics sample exam

These suggested answers are my work and are not provided or endorsed by VCAA. Use them at your own risk. Complain here.


Download the sample exam (PDF) - you will need this to understand the answers

Also see my VCE Computing exam tips page


Section A - 20 questions, 20 marks

Section B - 4 questions, 20 marks

Section C - 13 questions, 60 marks

Reading time 15 minutes. Writing time 2 hours.



Section A - Multiple choice


Answer all questions in pencil on the answer sheet provided for multiple-choice questions.
Do not use pen. VCAA's mark sense reader equipment does not detect pen marks!
Choose the response that is correct or that best answers the question.
A correct answer scores 1; an incorrect answer scores 0.
Marks will not be deducted for incorrect answers.
No marks will be given if more than one answer is completed for any question.

Note - in the case a question is later deemed unexaminable (as has happened, after I challenged a couple of questions in the past), any answer will score 1 mark. Never leave an answer blank.


Answer is C

A. IPO is for designing formulas and algorithms - their inputs, processing and outputs

B. Storyboards (as applied to websites) design navigation within and between pages and page elements.

C. Layout diagrams design the structure and of appearance of complicated objects or output, particularly the positioning of components.

D. Data dictionaries describe the data in a solution: the data types, names, sizes of variables in a program or fields in a database table, for example.



Answer is B

A. How will this observation reveal whether the infographic is achieving its intended goals?

B. This would get data about how well the infographic is working.

C. The physiotherapist is not the target audience.

D. This is testing, to see if the solution works correctly.

Be on the lookout for questions about the difference between evaluation and testing. Testing happens during development to see if its output is accurate. Evaluation is done after development and aims to measure how well the finished solution is achieving the goals for which it was created in the first place. e.g. a finished website may have 100% working links, but still keeps no visitors reading for longer than 3 seconds. So it tests perfectly, but fails in its evaluation.


Answer is A

Hehehe - shredder. LOL. Even exam writers sometimes have great trouble coming up with an incorrect 'distractor' option. I ought to know. I wrote a lot of exams.

Really, if this took you more than 2 seconds, you should be doing woodwork, not IT.

The study design's DA U3O2 KK01 - Roles, functions and characteristics of digital system components can include an awful amount of hardware and software, but really you just need to know the bare basics of networking hardware, like firewalls, switches, proxy servers, modems, routers, cables and wireless links etc.

What really gets the examiners' juices flowing, however, is the next KK which is all about security: DA U3O2 KK02 - Physical and software security controls used by organisations for protecting stored and communicated data. You should expect quite a grilling about security threats and defences, including hardware, software and procedures.

This question is useful because you can answer it so quickly that you can invest more time into more subtle and complicated questions like A14


Answer is A

Me gusta! I liked this question. It was juicy.

(In case you have not read my historical exam post mortems, I tend to use doggy metaphors for my reactions to questions. It's best not to ask why. But I hate dogs. Anyway. Where were we?)

The question's link lines between fields in tables was very wonky (e.g. in option D, the Dentist line is halfway between the first and second fields). Bad examiner.

The question's premise of a transition of data from a flat-file spreadsheet to a relational database was clever. It was a real-world way to force the separation of the data into related tables and create relationships. Jolly good.

BTW, it is unspoken by the examiners, but we are assume to assume the the underlined fields in these tables are key fields. I expect the examiners thought (a) that students who knew what key fields were would know this, and (b) students who didn't know this would probably be going "eeny meeny miney mo" to select the answer anyway.

But why are AppointmentDate and AppointmentTime also underlined? Are they also keys to fields in tables that don't exist?

Or are the 3 underlined fields meant to be the APPOINTMENT table's key?

Professional database engineers NEVER EVER use multiple fields in a key. It's a cardinal sin, made by newbies on day one and beaten out of them with blunt instruments before morning tea. EVERY table has its own key field - even if you never end up using it. It's a habit that real database engineers cannot and should not break when creating a table: (1) create the table, (2) create an ID field. It's like: put on left sock, put on right sock. It does not even bear thinking about. JUST DO IT.

Using multiple fields for a table key is the ONLY way to violate third normal form (3NF - just get used to it). NEVER use multiple fields for a key. You have been warned.

Yet, the examiners still like to assume that incompetent morons put on one sock and forget the other one, and create tables without unique key fields - and then insist on asking exam questions about how to fix the problem. 3NF IS NOT A PROBLEM, any more than leaving home wearing only one sock is a problem. 3NF failure is a sign of incompetence. You don't fix the problem - you fire the database designer who created the problem. Grrr. Examiners take note.

Sorry. 3NF gets me riled. Where were we?

A. All data relating to a dentist is in the dentist table - the same for appointments and patients. This is as it should be for 3NF. The relationships (lines between tables) correctly link the Dentist ID between tables 1 and 2.

B. Dentist number in table 1 seems to be linked halfway in table 2 between Dentist Number and AppointmentDate. Which is weird. It's either sloppy formatting, or it's assuming that the 3 underlined fields in the Appointment table form its key. The Patient number relationship line is also wonky. I just left this option hanging until I looked at the others.

C. Can be thrown out of consideration immediately. PatientName in the Appointment table would never be related to separate name fields in the Patient Table.

Sometimes it's easier to throw out silly options, then go back and reconsider those that remain.

D. You might at first wonder: options A and D are the same! The vital relationships are the same. What's going on? Then, comparing A and D more closely, you see "Estimated Duration" in the Patient table. Either it is the estimated duration of the appointment (in which case it should appear in the Appointment table to satisfy 2NF) - or each patient has an Estimated Duration and will die if they exceed it.

This is probably true, but not really relevant to a dentist's booking database. So let's cross out option D.

That leaves A. Job done.


Answer is B

The other options don't come close.


Answer is D

I was thinking C because an existence check would indeed ensure a postcode had been entered, but the question says "a valid postcode has been entered". That's a different thing. In section A be sure to read and consider all the words in a question. They can be subtle and tricksy if you make rash decisions.


Answer is A

A tricky one. Remember that when given a list of items in an option, all of the items need to be true for the option to be true. Rule just one out, and you can rule out that option as an answer.

Also remember that the question asks for the most appropriate list. Not just any appropriate list. That makes a big difference in the world of Section A.

Here's how the thinking process could go:

1. Make a mental note of what you are looking for: criterion for data integrity. That is the main point to focus on. Data integrity refers to its trustworthiness, quality, reliability, completeness, currency (up-to-dateness) etc.

Even better, pull out the highlighter (that you really should have brought with you) and highlight that key word so you don't forget its importance it 30 seconds later.

Remember the exam rules: Students are permitted to bring into the examination room: pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers, sharpeners and rulers.

AT THIS POINT - I introduce a useful Section A technique. Beside each ABCD option that you consider, put a tick ("could be right"), a cross ("can't be right") or a question mark ("not sure"). This can help you make your final decision. Please avoid the alternative technique of yelling out, "Yep!" / "No way!" / "Dunno about that" in the exam room.

2. Look at Option A

  • Timeliness? Yep. That's a requirement for data integrity. Give it a tick.
  • Authenticity (Is data real/genuine? Is it actually from the source from which it claims to come?) Tick.
  • Correctness? (Does it have any errors at all?) If data is just wrong, it lacks integrity, e.g. most cats have five legs*, Nicolas Cage is a fine actor. Tick.
  • Accuracy? (How closely does the data represent reality?) Inaccurate data becomes untrustworthy and thereby loses integrity, so tick.

A philosophical and etymological sidebar: Correct vs accurate? These terms are similar, but not identical. You could say "I arrived around 9am" and it would be correct, but not so accurate. You could have said "I arrived at 9:01 and 2.4 seconds a.m." which would be both correct and accurate. But you can't be accurate but incorrect: "Today I landed on the planet Fribulon Minor at 9:01 and 2.4 seconds a.m." So you can be correct but inaccurate, but you can't be incorrect and accurate.

Option A survives vetting - give it a provisional tick of approval.tick

But - and this is a big but in Section A - always consider every option in a question. Don't find an answer that is "true", select it and move on to the next question. It could well be that one of the other unconsidered options is even more correct. This does happen in VCAA exams. Trying to save time by ignoring options is a foolish move.

2. Look at Option B

  • timeliness - We already decided this is valid, so tick.
  • accountability - Wait. What? I haven't seen this one. Did my teacher and the textbook leave it out? It does sound impressive, though. Maybe it's possible. I'll question-mark it.
  • relevance - Yes. Data that is irrelevant to an issue has no value at all, and may in fact be deceptive.
  • accuracy - Already ticked.

So - we have 3 ticks and a question mark. Not looking good. Overall -

A thought to keep in mind: the students in the VCE cohortDefinition will contain idiots and ignorant folk who did not study. They are often easily distracted by fancy-looking terms that seem important, like "accountability". Section A options sometimes uses terms designed to make such people think, "Oooh, that sounds brainy! I'll go for that one." That is why I call Section A options "distractors" when they seem designed to tempt idiots and idlers.

Remember: you can't help being an idiot, but you can avoid ignorance by being prepared for your exam.

3. Look at Option C.

  • timeliness - yep.
  • authenticity - already yepped.
  • reasonableness - whoa. This is new. You have a vague memory about how validation checks the reasonableness of data. It sort of makes sense that it would be also related to data integrity. OK. We'll question-mark that one.
  • referencing - Well, yeah. You did have to reference sources using the APA style, but is that relevant to data integrity? Not really. Actually, not at all. Rule it out.

Overall for option C -

4. Look at Option D.

  • correctness - OK
  • accountability - same problem as in Option B
  • relevance - OK
  • reasonableness - same as in C.

Option D summary:

So, option A it is. Colour in your answer sheet and move on.

* I nearly said "Most cats have 3 legs", then realised that most cats do have three legs. But also, most of them also have another leg - for a total of four.


Answer is B

Tricksy. You may have been going through the options thinking, "OK, OK, OK, OK. What?". All of the options look sensible; there are no obvious rejects. What to do?

Go back to the question. Focus on the word you skimmed but otherwise ignored upon your first reading: "usability". Ah, that makes it easy.

Moral: read all of the words in the stem. They're not there for decoration.


Answer is none of the above

It's a Dog's Breakfast™

This question is fatally flawed. Yet it is a valuable learning experience for you. Let's look at it in detail.

Investigate the stem - key words: query, relational. Highlight them.

A query is user's specification for the retrieval of relevant data from the database.

Relational means the database has two or more related tables.

But you knew that. Let's examine the options:

Option A - nope. That would be a report, not a form. A form is for data input, not output.

Annoyed Note - the exam should be free of terms or concepts related to a specific software tool, like Microsoft Access, or Excel. In reality, get used to the fact that the examiners will usually be thinking of MS products when they ask questions. Users of other RDBMS, such as Filemaker, need to learn and recognise terms like query, report etc, and ignore the "rule" that calculated fields don't exist.

Option B - sounds reasonable. Queries usually provide totals, averages, statistical summaries.

Option C - Data may be sorted, but not necessarily in alphabetical order.

Option D - This is the problematic official answer. A query does extract data from tables. No argument there. But a query does not have to extract data from two or more tables. And we're being careful to consider all of the words in a stem and an option.

And, before you start... Yes! I know you highlighted the word relational in the stem.

But just because the database is relational (with two or more tables) does not mean that a query in that database must use two or more of those tables!

A query in a relational database is quite entitled to extract data from a single table from the relational database.

The premise of the question is just WRONG.

OK. Let's calm down.

You're in an exam.

You've seen the problem.

You can't fire off an angry email to VCAA.

What do you do in a case like this?

1. Remember that you must provide an answer to get any chance of earning a mark. No answer automatically means no mark, even if the question is flawed. It has happened more than once that a question has been challenged, judged to be officially wrong, and every student who gave any answer earned a mark.

2. Suck down your righteous indignation and calmly ask yourself: OK. The question is as stupid as Justin Bieber. But what were the examiners probably thinking? What were they expecting to be the right answer?

You know it won't be A or C. Forget them.

B is certainly possible. That is what I originally opted for.

D is right, apart from the "two or more" stuff.

Toss a coin? Hope for the best?

Do your best, and pray that someone will officially complain to VCAA and have the question stricken and any answer rewarded.

Sadly, this has happened far too often in VCAA exams over the past 20 years. But I'm perversely glad that the sample exam had a sample bungled question so I could bring this topic to you. Thanks, examiners. Here's a token of my appreciation for your unintended yet valuable educational experience.


Answer is D officially. This is not an easy one.

Want a clue about what I think?

It's a dog's breakfast.

I hope you made the mental note about how the logbook columns violate 1NF by containing more than one data item each (even specifying kilometres and litres in the last two columns is a sin against Codd*). That is why the options break them down into separate database fields, e.g. "Melbourne 13425km" is split into discrete fields BeginLocation (Melbourne) and Begin (13425). So, that's a good thing.

Firstly - Why do none of the options include the vehicle? Surely that is vital to the data visualisation? The premise of the questions is that "David wants to develop a data visualisation for his employees, displaying how the trucks are used." but the actual trucks are never recorded in the data! Let it go. Breathe deeply and move on. This is an exam. Get on with more important things...

Let's make mental notes and do highlighter practice in the stem: Which set of field names would support the most efficient use of the database?

  • field names = the actual choice of names (e.g. "Litres" vs "L") and not data topics
  • efficient = Saving time, money, labour (as opposed to ease of use, accuracy, attractiveness of output, etc)

Let's also note an important omission in the stem. "efficient use of the database" - by whom? The developer or the end-user? Logically (and ideally), the end-user will never see the field names used by the developer. End users may see captions used in reports, but the actual field names are only known and used by the database developers. So, we can only assume that the question must refer to the efficient use of the database by its developer. This may be important later.

Let's walk through it. You might want to put on gumboots. It might get sticky and smelly....

Option A

  • Fuel - could be ambiguous. It might refer to fuel consumption or fuel type. Options B and D fix that problem, but is it an efficiency issue? Nope. It's effectiveness, relating to accuracy (the potential for developers to make errors by misinterpreting the field name). But it's shorter and takes less effort to type that "FuelType" so it's more efficient. Summary: good choice.
  • L - "L" is not immediately obvious as referring to "Litres Used" so errors could occur if developers misunderstand its meaning and refer to the wrong field (as with "Fuel" above. But, again, this is not an efficiency issue, as demanded by the question's stem. In fact, using the name L is more efficient for developers because it involves less typing (so its faster and takes less labour). Summary: good choice.
  • Distance - interesting! This field is completely unnecessary since it can be dynamically generated in a Filemaker calculated field or a report in Access. Typing the distance into a table is a waste of time and effort and is definitely NOT efficient. Summary: bad choice.
  • Begin - Again, two options are provided: "Begin" and "BeginLocation" and again one is less ambiguous, but the other takes less typing. Since the stem is concerned with efficiency, you'd really have to go for the shorter option as used here and in <B>? Summary: good choice.
  • End - See Begin above. Summary: good choice.

Option B

  • FuelType - see Fuel in <A>. Less efficient because of more effort typing. Summary: bad choice.
  • Litres - see L in <A>. Less efficient because of more effort typing. Summary: bad choice
  • Distance - see <A>. Unnecessary and inefficient. Summary: bad choice
  • Begin - see <A>. Summary: bad choice
  • End - see <A>. Summary: bad choice

Option C

  • Type - Ambiguous (could refer to vehicle type or fuel type), but it's shorter than "FuelType". Summary: good choice.
  • Fuel - See above. Summary: good choice.
  • Distance - See above. Summary: bad choice
  • BeginLocation - See above. Summary: bad choice
  • EndLocation - See above. Summary: bad choice

Option D

  • FuelType - see above. Summary: bad choice
  • Litres - see above. Summary: bad choice
  • Distance - see above. Summary: bad choice
  • BeginLocation - See above. Summary: bad choice
  • EndLocation - See above. Summary: bad choice

What fun! VCAA's official answer, D, is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad in terms of efficiency. None of the names is** more efficient.

The names are certainly praiseworthy, but not for their efficiency. Being meaningful and informative, they would reduce the chance of errors being made, and would make the database easier to use. You know what we call those criteria? EFFECTIVENESS.

The best answer? A. I'm prepared for either a five minute argument or the full half-hour.

* Ted Codd is the database rockstar who developed relational theory. He is the one who inspired the mantra: A non-key field must provide a fact about the key, the whole key and nothing but the key - so help me Codd. It's a classic joke told at database parties.

** Yes, "is", not "are". The word "none" is singular (as in "not one")


Answer is B

The incorrect instructions and/or data entry controls on the forms has led to the input of untrustworthy data. Does a rating of "5" mean 50% or 100%? Since it's hard or impossible to tell, the data is said to have lost integrity. Like politicians after a scandal, they can't be trusted any more.


Answer is A

Let's go through the options again, to show the decision process.

  • Option A. Again, you notice that in each option there are multiple items connected by "and". Both options need to be true for the option to be acceptable. You'd think that career advice would need to be age appropriate. And gender inclusivity is a big thing for the sheilas, so why not keep them happy and let's tick that too. [This Is A Joke]. So, big tick for option A.
  • Option B. Appropriate for all ages? We're not expecting tiny tots or many old-age pensioners to be entering careers, so this is out. Gender exclusive? Read carefully! Rule out B.
  • Option C. Suitable for adults only? No, many teens would be in the target audience. Culturally exclusive? Again, that in itself would immediately rule out option C.
  • Option D. Suitable for young people only? No, many adults would be thinking of changing careers or entering new careers. Culturally inclusive is fine though. Rule out D.

So, the choice is clear, if you read the options carefully.


Answer is C

This requires some finer decision-making. All of the options are relevant to data integrity, but which is the most important?

Data could be a little inaccurate but still have value. It's a matter of degree. Also, data could be a little out of date but still have value. Data could probably tolerate being a tiny bit unreasonable - but not a lot.

But if data were at all faked, it would be completely unreliable and useless*. So option C is the best option of the ones available.

* And yes, I am aware that I used "data" both as plural and singular. Data is the plural of datum, but 99% of people today either don't know or don't care, and popular usage is what counts. Here's a tip: being technically and archaically correct but sounding like a pompous twit is not a goal to be striven for.


Answer is C

Option A is a mess, making it hard to find the final infographics and send/archive them.

At the end of the project, each graphic designer's full set of original infographics will need to be easily identified - this rules out B

Option D has much the same problems as option A.

Don't worry if a Section A question takes much more time than other questions do. Sometimes a question can be particularly subtle or detailed and needs extra thought. Other questions can be knocked over quickly so you can keep up your average of about 1.2 minutes per mark (120 minutes for 100 marks) - but all Section A questions require double-checking before moving on. In Section A the time you save in writing is meant to be invested in thinking.


Answer is D

This was a bit of a credibility stretch.

And they forgot ceiling-mounted laser guns as an option...


Answer is C

Hmmm. OK.

An NFR is a quality that a solution should have, such as ease of use, accuracy, entertainment. Being able to be shown in a slideshow would qualify.

An FR is a function that the solution should be able to do. These are verbs, like display, validate, use data. These things need to be specifically built in during a product's development.

NFRs are consequences or side-effects of FRs.

e.g. Programming a database to show definitions of key terms when the mouse is hovered over a word (FR) would make a solution informative and easy to use (NFR).

e.g. Being able to sing and dance (FR) makes one entertaining (NFR).

e.g. A spreadsheet should be able to read data from CSV, XML and MS Access files (FR) to make it more flexible (NFR)

FRs are specified in order to produce desired NFRs.


Answer is C.

If you were getting annoyed and were muttering, "But there are other types of quantitative data than character and numeric..." remember that the stem "includes", so it does not rule out other data types. But you just get to work with the options in the question, and C is clearly the best, most correct answer - of those on offer.


The question is wrong.

The answer is still D

A design tool is selected to represent a table in a record. The table includes the table name, field names, data types and descriptions.
This design tool is an example of
A. an IPO chart.
B. a Gantt chart.
C. a storyboard.
D. a data dictionary.

A table contains records, which contain fields. Records do not contain tables.

The question should read:

A design tool is selected to represent a record in a table.


A design tool is selected to represent the fields in a table.

What sort of drugs was this question taking?


Answer is B

It's simpler than D and puts the money on the more logical axis to show sales over time.

Option C is a close second, but the CD graphic interferes somewhat with the important graphline.

Option D is too "busy" with unimportant graphics and has to be read upside-down.

Option A is inappropriate for tracking data over time, and is nearly unreadable. A pie chart should only be used for showing the constituent parts of a whole.


Answer is D

The most advanced technology my grandmother owned was a pedal sewing machine, and even she could have got this right.

OK. It's the end of Section A.

Notice how there were no questions with the options "None/All of the above". Proper VCAA exams will never have such options.

Put away your pencils and grab your pens.
It is not an official VCAA rule, but it's best not to answer sections B and C in pencil.
It may make for easier corrections, but it could get smudged and hard to read by the time your paper gets to the person who is assessing it.


Section B - short answer questions





  • Read the question twice before writing the first word of your answer.
  • Highlight key words, as you did in section A.
  • If your answer doesn't fit in the space provided, it's not a sign that you are a genius. It's a good sign that you don't know what you're talking about: clarify your thoughts; distil the answer into a few clear, unambiguous, relevant words; cross out the unholy mess you created earlier; start writing again in the margin. 
  • Use the number of lines provided as a stern guide as to how detailed an answer you are expected to provide.
  • Feel free to jot down your answer's key ideas and terms, or do rough sketches of pictorial answers in the margins or the blank pages in the answer book.
  • Write legibly. If your normal writing looks like it is done by a drunk death-metal drummer having a seizure, write in CAPITALS or p-r-i-n-t. It takes longer, but at least it's readable. The exam markers will do their best to translate your scrawled hieroglyphics, but they are not miracle workers.


  • If you are given a specific scenario in a question (e.g. a uni student's project, a teacher's sport data) your answer must relate directly to that case study, not something vaguely similar in a different context. If your answer is not specifically relevant to the case given, you may get no marks for it. e.g. if a question's case study refers to security problems in a small local shop, don't answer with brilliant security solutions for an international online megastore. This is a fatal and not uncommon error students make in exam sections B and C.
  • So, if you are given names for characters in the questions' case studies in Sections B or C, actually use those names in your answer, e.g. refer to Nikita in B1, and "the teacher" in B2. This will force you to use the case study as your sole reference point for your answer, and you will not discuss similar but irrelevant and inappropriate scenarios.


3 marks

Key words to highlight in the question:

  • weather - This questions is relevant to DA U3O1 KK1 - "Techniques for efficient and effective data collection, including methods to collect census, Geographic Information System (GIS) data, sensor, social media and weather".
    • Reminder: all of the data sources listed after the word "including" are examinable.
    • Also remember that any term in the glossary that is relevant to Data Analytics is also examinable (e.g. Gantt charts).
  • efficient - in your answer you will only consider time, money, and labour - not accuracy, ease of use, quality etc (which are effectiveness criteria).

The two parts of B1 [exam section B question 1] are worth 3 marks. Assume that naming the technique gets 1 and the description gets 2 marks. I don't think VCAA works with half marks when assessing answers.

Data collection technique: (1 line provided) - Download weather data from data feeds at the Bureau of Meteorology's website.

  • The BOM website provides current weather data and historical data feeds.
  • Suggesting that she set up her own weather station is not an efficient technique, as the question demands.
  • When given a single line for an answer, you usually just name something or provide a brief summary. Do not justify or describe unless you are explicitly told to.
  • Don't waste words
  • Don't repeat the question, e.g. "To efficiently collect data, Nikita should download...". Start your answer with the relevant VERB that answers the question. The examiner already knows what the question is. You are there to answer it.
  • Use IT terms accurately:
    • Use "upload" and "download" properly.
    • Avoid sloppy expressions like "Get data from"

The question is unnecessarily wordy, IMO. The "first year", "second semester" and list of months do not add anything meaningful to the question.
It should just say:"Nikita is studying meteorology at university. She is asked to research and analyse weather patterns in order to predict the weather for the coming summer months". 
Don't you think?

Description: (3 lines provided)

My knee-jerk answer (without further research into BOM offerings):

Nikita should download the BOM data, import it into a spreadsheet, create line graphs of past temperature, rain, wind (etc) data. She could then extrapolate (extend) the lines into the future to make predictions.

It is unclear whether the question wants Nikita to just analyse past weather patterns, or actually make predictions. Exam case studies often lack important details. When in doubt, explain your assumptions. e.g. "If Nikita is expected to make predictions, she should...". You might at least get partial marks.

Rationale for my answer:

  • it fits in the space allotted for a hand-written answer on the exam paper.
  • it is feasible: spreadsheets can do that. And spreadsheets are commonplace.
  • it does not rely on very vague or extreme/inappropriate solutions (e.g. "She should use artificial intelligence to predict...")
  • it describes the process she could use to use the data for her research.
  • it uses IT terms correctly, such as download and import.
    • Sloppy use of IT expressions will hurt you. Want to look like an idiot? Use a term you don't actually understand. It gives the markers a well-earned laugh; it gives you get zero marks.
  • it explained a term (extrapolate) to show I wasn't just quoting a term parrot-fashion, and that I knew what the term actually meant. Lazy students often (TOO OFTEN) use buzzwords and technical jargon they don't understand, hoping to sound like they know of what they speak... they rarely do.
    • To explain: extrapolate means to go beyond known data, such as following the trend of a graph line into the future.
    • Compare with interpolate which is to invent data that will logically fill in the gaps where data is missing between known data points.

The reading at mass 2.5 comes between known data points 2 and 3 = interpolation (pronounced in-ter-po-lay-shn or in-ter-po-lay-shn)

The reading at mass 5.5 comes after the last known data point of 5 = extrapolation (pronounced ex-trap-o-lay-shn or ex-trap-o-lay-shn).  

Give me a break. I taught English too.



Let's look at the question's instructions in detail...

Describe the two validation checks that could be done on the student results for running times, as listed below, and provide an example for each.

1. Note the verb: describe. This means you need to say what something is like.

2. Highlight the words validation checks - this is a MAJOR criterion. It's not "testing" or "evaluation". Like Pavlov's dog, you should start salivating when you see IT exam words like this. If you misread a key word in a question, everything you write may be worthless.

3. and - such a small word is so important when reading questions. It means you have to do more than one thing.
Its natural enemy in the wild is the word or. Learn to tell them apart.

4. an example - "an" means one. Not two. If you give two great examples, you'll only get marks for one.

  • If you give an irrelevant load of trash first, and then give a perfect example, it just looks like you couldn't tell the difference between what was right and what was ridiculous.
  • Don't expect the marker to choose which answer to assess: it will probably be your first (rubbish) answer.
  • If you put down a dumb answer, then realise your error and devise your perfect replacement answer, cross out the wrong one!
  • Your entire goal in the exam is to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject. If you leave the marker in doubt, you will suffer.

Get an overview of the structure of the question.

  • Four marks in total
  • Two major parts - description of range check and type check (3 lines each) + 1 line for an example
  • Usually, one line of writing is worth 1 mark. In this case, however, it seems the descriptions and examples are worth the same. Hmmm.

As usual, think though what knowledge the question wants you to demonstrate, and what your first words should be.

Remember, all of your marks come from this thinking. The writing is only evidence of that thought. Writing without thought is a complete waste of time, ink and oxygen.



Checks that the data lies within reasonable or allowable limits, or exists in a list of permitted/acceptable options.


  1. I didn't start the answer with "A range check checks that.." The exam paper already provided the heading so you don't need to waste time and words repeating it. The marker can already see the topic - your job is to answer it.
  2. "Reasonable" and "allowable" are two different things, so I mentioned them both. I could have used "parameters" instead of "limits", but you should only use the fancy tech talk if you're confident that you really understand what it means. Don't try to impress with big words: as mentioned elsewhere on this site, showing off usually backfires.
  3. The bit after "or" is not really relevant in this case study - the running times are not items from a limited list. But it is relevant to describing a range check, so I put it in just to be safe. When given a case study, your answer should be relevant to the case given, and not apply to any old situation you could think of.


Times must be > zero.


  1. Remember the THREE Cs ™ - Make your point Correctly, Clearly, Completely and Cwickly Concisely.
    • Get your facts right. Make sure your answer is relevant to the question.
    • Don't be vague or confusing.
    • Answer all of the question, not just part of it.
    • Use as few words as you can while obeying the first two rules.
    • A bonus, free C: Correctly spell IT words.
    • Another bonus C: Count properly. If you're asked for 3 things, don't provide 6.
  2. I used > as shorthand for "greater than", just to save writing. I assumed the marker - an IT teacher - would know what I mean, but only if I used the symbols correctly. You would not want to show off and do something dumb like use >= which implies that a running time could legitimately be zero, or < which would just make the marker snigger and mutter about the pathetic state of modern youth.

    It may or may not be true that at the end of each academic year VCAA hosts a champagne and caviar event at their Lonsdale St headquarters where exam markers gather to present the stupidest answers they found on exam papers from that year. 



Checks whether the running time is numeric (a number of seconds).


  1. If I'd said "Checks whether data is of an appropriate data type", I would have been 100% correct BUT it would just have repeated the question without showing that I actually knew what a "data type" was. Never simply repeat the question and expect full marks. Just to be sure, I added a little clarification. It was only a word or two but it nailed the fact that I was not guessing. 
  2. This raises an interesting issue because some people (not intelligent people) could store running times in the format ""HH:MM:SS" (e.g. 1:23:45.6) for 1 hour, 23 minutes, 45.6 seconds. But such data would be unintelligible to a database, and would violate first normal form (1NF) because it combined 3 fields of data in one. The type check could weed out those unintelligent people's data by finding the tell-tale colons in the field.


Checking the value only contains valid number characters (0-9 and .)

Note: Again, note the brief demonstration (in parentheses) that I knew what I was talking about, and not just spouting jargon that I'd heard during the year but never really understood. In your exam answers, you need to distinguish yourself from your lazy classmates who never paid attention in class or understood the details of the theory. Look upon the exam like a job interview - you're trying to impress.

Well, folks. I've explained a full 4 marks today and I want to go out and play under the sprinklers. 22 February 2022 @ 11:41



For 2 marks, you need to outline two functions to manipulate the data in the spreadsheet.

"Manipulation" == "processing", so we're looking at tools in the spreadsheet that can transform raw data into other forms, such as statistics (totals, averages, counts etc), charts, graphs, formatted text. etc

Fortunately, all spreadsheets follow the example of the legendary Lotus 1-2-3 (1983), which was copied by Microsoft for Excel, and cloned by LibreOffice, OpenOffice and everyone else. If anyone created a spreadsheet that was completely different, they would probably be tarred, feathered, and run out of town. So feel free to use MS Excel function names and syntax for your answers. You'd look weird if you didn't.

(The 'tarring and feathering' stuff was for my U.S. readers - whom I cannot explain, but seem to be multitudinous for no particular reason.)

Let's see what the question wants us to do...

OUTLINE = provide a brief overall description. For two marks, don't write an essay.

Let's start with the bleeding obvious.

(Note: sometimes, the bleeding obvious is exactly what the marker expects you to say. Trying to be quirky and different will probably only lose you marks.)

We are given no clues as to what manipulation / processing is being done, so ANY reasonable ones will do. So that's easy...

NOTE - you don't have to worry about the exact names of spreadsheet functions since VCAA does not mandate specific brands or versions of software tools - and different software tools' details may vary.

But make your meaning clear, e.g. referring to a function AV( ) is not as clear as calling it AVERAGE( ) - and remember that your primary mission in the exam is to demonstrate your knowledge.

OK. Think of TWO RELEVANT SPREADSHEET functions. Five spring to mind...






Avoid things like formatting (bold, centre, number of decimal places etc) since that's not manipulating data, it's just changing the appearance of the displayed data..

OK. Our initial brainstorm came up with five possible responses. For most thoughtful folk, their first answers are usually the most relevant, but give them a good look to double-check that they are actually relevant to the question.

TIP: Every so often, look back at the original question to make sure you haven't drifted off-topic and are now answering a question you wish you'd been asked.

When you are asked for X answers and can think of X+34 answers, you need to prune.  Be ruthless. Be brave enough to promote some options and demote other less-likely ones. If in doubt, demote. Keep the dead-certs. Keep your best options - throw the rest into the howling blizzard of Antarctic penguin-scented deselection. I hope I am clear.

So - I'll stick with my original two responses, as banal and unoriginal as they are. They are relevant, and you are not being marked on your originality: you are being marked on your answer's appropriateness to the question.


Function 1 (3 lines, 1 mark out of 2 - so keep it short)

AVERAGE - Elias would get an average of the data.

Hmmm. You ask yourself, does this look like I know what an 'average' is?

Or does it look like I'm my best friend Dumbo Doug who can't tell the difference between reggae and regatta, which is why he always dances during boat races?

I'd better not define a term using the term that is being defined. Good idea, me! Well done. Ten points to MY house. Yay.

AVERAGE - Elias would get a value that summarises all of the data.

Maybe not perfect, but close enough for one mark to show I know what an average is. Move on.

Just because 3 blank lines are provided does not mean you must fill them all. They are merely a guide to the level of detail the examiner is looking for. In this case, 3 lines of writing for one mark is a bit rich.

Do NOT fill unused space with irrelevant filler words. You will just waste your time and the examiner's patience.

Function 2 (3 lines, 1 mark out of 2)

TOTAL - a summary of the value of all of the data in a field.

It's hard to outline "Total". Again, don't resort to defining the term using the term you're defining.

At this point you may think, "Perhaps I should have used my SORT option instead of TOTAL...". Too bad. Too late. We're done here. Move on.

Have you demonstrated that you know two relevant spreadsheet functions? Yep. Expect full marks.



First, as usual, read the question so you

  1. don't waste time doing unnecessary things and
  2. don't leave out things you should have done

The question raises key points for you to highlight: Identify and describe two design principles that Elias should follow regarding the appearance of the infographic.  4 marks

  • There are several design principles from which to choose. You are limited to those relating to appearance, which (according to the holy glossary - blesséd be the glossary) are: alignment, balance, contrast, image use, space, and text/table formatting. Discussing other design principles (ease of use, flexibility and robustness, accessibility) will be a waste of time.
  • How many? Two. Fortunately, the examiners have kindly provided two spaces for your answer.
  • What to do with them? (i) identify (i.e. name them), (ii) describe (say what they are like)
  • 4 marks = how much should you write. Again, the examiners help by providing 3 blank lines. Writing less that that is OK if you fully answer the question. Writing more than that usually means you are not sure what your answer is or you're faking it and not fooling anyone.

OK. Choose two design principles. Any two? Does the context of the question guide your decision? Does the case study help you or limit your choice as to what principles are relevant?

Consider the audience of the infographic: the local community. Does that suggest that a particular design principle is more important than the others? Not really. So, feel free to pick any two design principles.

I'll cover them all - you would pick just two.

  • alignment - the arrangement of the content relative to the margins of the screen or printed page: left or right justified, or centred horizontally. Vertical alignment would also be relevant.
  • balance - the positioning of content so it is attractive and even, without excessive amounts in any one place or side (e.g. all the content is on the left margin and the right hand side is all empty).
  • contrast - clear difference between text colours and background colours - to improve readability.
  • image use - are images needed at all? If so, are they relevant? Are they sized so their details are clear? Is colour necessary? (Printing in colour is expensive). Are colour choices attractive? Are colours visible to colour-blind people?
  • space - blank areas are important to group related items together, separate items, highlight important parts, improve readability, give the reader a visual clue to the structure of the information. Spacing includes page margins, line spacing, spacing between paragraphs, indents.
  • text/table formatting - tables: usually have centred, bold or large headings; numeric values are right-justified; cell padding avoids cell contents overlapping with cell borders. Text formatting choices include: typeface ('font') readability; text size; styling (e.g. bold, italic); underlined hyperlinks; colour (e.g. red for important/dangerous items).

Note: when discussing a principle, don't repeat aspects you've used before - e.g. with text formatting, you wouldn't discuss text contrast colours or alignment if you'd already raised them when describing your other design principle.


Security question! The examiners just love security questions. Expect at least one such question, and expect it to be worth quite a few marks.

Consequences -

1. If the original data is destroyed in a disaster (e.g. fire), the only backups would also be destroyed, client data could not be recovered and the ability to do business would be seriously damaged.

2. If the backup tape were stolen, private or valuable secret information might fall into the hands of competitors or be used unlawfully.

In #1, notice the end bit shown in italics. If you had only said the backups would be destroyed, the reader might still be asking, "So what? Why is that a bad consequence?"

The end bit in italics seals the deal and makes the point relevant. Moreover, it uses specific details from the case study (the reference to the client data) to nail the answer's relevance to the case study.

The morals of the story:

1. Make sure you fully answer the question and don't leave your reader wondering, "So what?"

2. If given a case study, use relevant detail from it to ensure the relevance of your answer.


Two things to do in 3 lines: propose a strategy, and justify it.

Strategy: Copy the data to cloud storage at least daily, preferably as soon as it's created or changed.

Reasoning: When the local data is damaged, destroyed or lost, the cloud copy will be safely offsite and can be recovered.

The question does not give subheadings for the two parts of the answer but it might be wise add them yourself, especially if you tend to be disorganised.
The subheadings are not necessary to the answer, but they will force you to stay focused on each part of the answer so you don't leave out a part.


- Disorganised or missing evacuation procedures can lead to staff being in physical danger during an emergency.

- Return to normal business will be delayed or prevented if no secondary worksite has been planned in advance.

- Data backups may not have been done properly, tested or their procedure documented so recovery may be impossible or incomplete.

- Missing or outdated contact information may prevent or slow down communication with clients, families of staff, vendors, insurance, emergency services etc.


- I started my original answer with, "Without a disaster recovery plan..." but threw it away because it only repeated the question and provided nothing towards an answer.

- I used dotpoints to clearly separate the different reasons for my answer. Feel free to use your own dotpoints if the exam question does not provide separate spaces for them. They will help you ensure the different parts for your answer are in fact different, and are not the same point being repeated.

- I provided 4 dotpoints. You should give 3. The question does not give a required number of points for your explanation, but it's safe to assume that one good, relevant point would be worth 1 mark. Saying the same point twice using different words = one point. Providing more than the required number of points is noble and sweet of you, but you're not writing a textbook - you're answering an exam question. Don't waste time. Earn your marks and move on.

Unlike what your parents always taught you, doing the bare minimum is A Good Thing during an exam. The examiner is not thinking "Ah, this candidate provided 4 truly wonderful points. If only he or she had gone on with another sixteen, I would have been delighted. Sigh."

Sorry, mum. Sorry, dad. Sorry, legal guardian. But it's true.


Section C - case study



Section C - case study - general advice

1. Read the case study before reading (let alone answering) the questions. I have heard of students leaving exams and asking their friends why there was 'a little story' at the end of the exam. Heaven only knows what they thought of the section C questions.

2. Answers must apply to the case study. Do not give generic answers appropriate to different circumstances. Even if the answer is theoretically correct, if it's irrelevant to the given case study, it will get no marks.

Even a parrot can repeat words it has heard, but it takes both wisdom and knowledge to know which words to repeat, and when.



What makes a good research question? I'm glad you asked. Visit the Research Question page.

Things to keep in mind when preparing your answer:

  • Sharon's research question was: "Are penguin chick numbers going down because of an increase in visitor numbers during winter?"
  • The question starts by telling you that your answer should be based on the charts in the case study. You should ask yourself "Why?"

Overall, it's flawed but worth pursuing.

It's GOOD because -

  • it's worthwhile. The penguin population is important.
  • the charts do show a correlation between visitor & breeding numbers (but do not prove a causal relationship.)
  • it's original. It does not seem to have been researched before.
  • it's researchable. Data exists on the topic.

But it's NOT GOOD because

  • it's not specific: visitors can have many effects on chick numbers. Simply finding that the number of visitors affects breeding is not very helpful in fixing the problem: it's what the visitors do that is probably more important.
  • it elicits a simple Yes/No answer rather than a complex explanation or discovery.


  • if possible, try to organise your arguments in order from most important to least important. If they're a muddle, it may look like you can't tell what's most relevant. This is where sketching the main points of an answer can help.
    - On a blank page or in the margins of the exam book, jot down your points, prioritise them, and then write your answer.
    - As well as organising your answer, this means as you write your answer, you can focus on clear expression and don't have to keep all of those points in your short term memory at the same time.
    - Important Tip - this works in all exams. As soon as writing time starts, immediately jot down all the quotes for your literature essay, formulas for physics, classic causes of revolutions etc that you painfully memorised. Then you can relax, free from the fear of writer's block, as you later craft complex answers and compose essays - your vital facts are safely stored away, ready for use when you need them.
  • don't sit on the fence in your final judgement. Choose one option or the other.
  • to me, the 4 points for "good" don't outweigh the 2 points against it. It only takes one iceberg to sink a Titanic.
  • I used "it" repeatedly instead of "the research question". The exam question makes the meaning of "it" clear so there's no need to waste words and time repeating myself.
  • I created my own dotpoints to clearly separate the main ideas in the answer. This makes it easier for me to clarify separate issues, and also makes my answer easier to read for the marker. Dotpoints are GOOD - if you provide all the necessary amount of detail in your answer.
  • do not ignore subtle hints given in questions - they could be vital guidance for your answers. I added the 'correlation' point because the start of the exam question stressed the relevance of the charts.
    When a question includes a direction like this, ask yourself why the examiners included it: what were they hinting that you should do in your answer?
  • please don't confuse causal and casual relationships:
    • In a causal relationship, factor A is a cause of effect B.
    • In a casual relationship, person A has a brief but good time with (but ends up breaking the heart of) person B (who thought they would be together forever).
  • "Justify your answer" questions usually do not have a single correct answer that the markers are waiting for. Answers could give very different conclusions yet still be valid because they use the available evidence logically to argue a solid case why they should be accepted.   It's the justification rather than the decision that earns the big marks.
  • in most "justification" questions, markers probably are probably expecting answers to lean in a certain direction because of certain clues given in the case study.



Gantt chart, showing task durations, dependencies, and both milestones...

I hope you like the hand-drawn arrows. They will soon be available as a NFT for only $200,000.




The critical path is the sequence of tasks from the project's beginning until its end that cannot have their durations changed without affecting the end-date of the project.

No task on the critical path has any slack, as task C does. C could run one day overtime before it affected dependent task E. In contrast, if task E's other predecessor, Task B, ran overtime, it would push task E back one day... and affect all following tasks.

So, the critical path is the longest path of tasks from go to whoa, and is also the shortest time in which all tasks can be completed.

This question was novel. Usually exam questions ask "What is the length of the critical path?" but this one raised the interesting question: should milestones be included in the critical path? It has never come up before to my knowledge.

A milestone is not - strictly speaking - a task. It takes no resources, no personnel, no time: it is an event. It just happens without anyone doing anything. Usually a milestone is the start or end of a stage of a project, e.g. the last of several tasks involved in design.

This raised a doubt in me - the question referred to "the tasks that are on the critical path". I wondered: does the examiner know about events as opposed to tasks? Or is a zero-duration task still counted as a task? In the end I decided I was over-thinking it and went for the more obvious interpretation, which is usually the safest refuge when you are in doubt..







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This page was created on 2022-01-24
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