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Breaking down the question

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

When analysing a short-answer question, it is helpful to identify the number of parts to the question and the steps required to answer those parts.

The sample exam question below requires students to demonstrate a good understanding of transmission media. Marks are not deducted for poor English expression as long as the answer is clear and mentions all the important elements.

There are different ways to measure the speed of a computer system. Describe three different ways and explain their major characteristics. (6 marks)

There are two parts to this question that must be addressed to get full marks. Can you identify the key words which indicate these separate elements?

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Responding to the question

There are different ways to measure the speed of a computer system. Describe three different ways and explain their major characteristics. (6 marks)

Three different responses to the sample question are provided below. Read through and compare these responses. Why do think the responses have received different marks?

Answer 1:

Clock speed, MIPS, and benchmarking. 2.5 marks

Look at Answer 1 above. Why do you think this answer was only given 2.5 marks?

Click a radio button below.

a. The answer describes different ways but does not explain major characteristics.
b. The answer does not describe different ways or explain major characteristics.
c. The answer explains major characteristics but does not give an adequate description.
d. Some of the information is incorrect.

Check your answer


Answer 2:

Clock speed is the speed of the system clock eg 500 mhz., and affects overall speed of system. MIPS: millions of instructions per second - measures the amount of instructions the cpu performs every second. This is more accurate than clock speed. Benchmarking: Special programs which mimic typical processing tasks used to compare system performance. Most accurate but still controversial. 4.5 marks

Look at Answer 2. Why do you think this answer did not receive full marks?

a. The answer does not describe different ways or explain major characteristics.
b. The answer explains major characteristics but does not give an adequate description.
c. The answer describes different ways but does not explain major characteristics.
d. Some of the information is incorrect.

Check your answer


Answer 3:

[1] Clock speed eg 500 mhz.is the speed at which the system clock is ticking. [2] It determines the speed at which each basic cpu operation can be performed. [3] However, pipelining technology means this is not an accurate measure of overall cpu speed. [4] MIPS: millions of instructions per second - measures the amount of instructions the cpu performs every second. [5] This is more accurate than clock speed, but RISC and CISC MIPS not directly comparable because work done per instruction differs. [6] Benchmarking: Special programs which mimic typical processing tasks used to compare system performance. [7] Most accurate but still controversial because some processors are fast at some tasks but not others, so we cannot directly compare processors overall speed - only their speed on a specific task. 6 marks

Look at the comprehensive response in Answer 3 above, which received full marks. This response includes both description and explanation. Note each sentence has been numbered.

Which sentences describe the different ways to measure computer speed?

Check your answers


Which sentences in Answer 3 explain the major characteristics of the different ways to measure the computer speed?

Check your answers




General tips

Read the question carefully

  • Identify all parts of the question.

    (Note: Often you will be required to give a direct answer to the question and to follow this with an explanation).
  • Identify direction words, key words, and qualifying words in the question.

Plan your answer

  • Jot down notes or an outline.

Aim for content, not volume

  • Present your answer in point form or short sentences.
  • Essay style is not required, and no marks are deducted for poor English expression.

If you are planning to use a prepared answer, STOP and ask yourself:

  • Is the answer completely relevant?
  • Does it answer all parts of the question?

Comments

For full marks, you would need to:

  • Describe the different ways of measuring the speed of a computer system

    (i.e. name and give descriptive information about the most noticeable qualities and features)
  • Explain the major characteristics of these different ways of measuring the speed

    (i.e. clarify, interpret, and elaborate on the description presented, give reasons for differences of opinion or results, and try to analyse causes.)

HINT: It is useful to make notes to organise your ideas first before responding on the exam paper.

Comments

The correct answer is b.

The answer does not describe different ways or explain major characteristics.

The answer names the different ways to measure the speed of a computer system, but does not describe them (i.e. it does not comment on the most noticeable qualities and features). There is also no attempt to explain the major characteristics.

Comments

The correct answer is c.

The answer describes different ways but does not explain major characteristics.

The answer describes the different ways to measure the speed of a computer system, by first naming them and then commenting on the most noticeable qualities and features. Concluding statements are made about the comparative accuracy of the different ways of measuring, but these are not supported by any explanation or analysis of the major characteristics.

Comments

  • Clock speed: Sentences 1 and 2
  • MIPS: Sentence 4
  • Benchmarking: Sentence 6

Did you notice the way these descriptions are structured? That is, the...

  • name of the method
  • definition of the term used for the method
  • comment on the method's most noticeable qualities and features

Comments

  • Clock speed: Sentence 3
  • MIPS: Sentence 5
  • Benchmarking: Sentence 7

Did you notice the way these explanations are structured? That is...

  • comparison (sometimes)
  • problem
  • reason
  • conclusion
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