Below, you'll find answers to some of the questions we've been asked about the Applied A level in ICT, organised by topic.

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With the 'types of online services', 'aspects of the Information Age' and 'factors contributing to the digital divide', what kind of size report is being looked for? For each type, aspect or form, do you want one example? How technical should the lines of enquiry/ discussion be? 

We're not expecting students to produce masses of work on each of these aspects.  This is an AS unit and an introduction to the course. Students are expected to find out something about the Information Age, while using the topic as a vehicle for developing their research skills and their ICT skills.

To get beyond Mark Band 1, students must provide actual examples (plural) of the services/aspects they are describing. 

We are not looking for a technical slant. This is a user-focused unit. However, this does not prevent a student from taking this approach if he or she wants to. 

With regard to monitoring student progress, does this have to be on a weekly basis (that could be scanned in) or would a witness statement do for each student indicating the amount of help guidance given? 

Where the quality of work in the eportfolio doesn't appear to match the mark awarded, the assessor will need to indicate that the reason for the low mark is the amount of prompting the student received. We certainly don't want to see your record or even a witness testimony for this. You can simply comment on the e-record sheet that you will need to fill in for each student.

For assessment evidence (a), students have to research five different types of online service. If, for example, they choose real-time information, they will probably cover train timetables, traffic, weather etc. Would this be classed as one type? How much would students be expected to write for each type of online service?

You are correct in your assumption that real-time information is one category and traffic, weather, timetables etc. are all examples. We're not expecting students to write huge amounts on each type of service, but we are expecting a description, an indication of target audience, one or more actual examples, benefits and drawbacks and a view on fitness for purpose, with suggestions for improvements if appropriate. And, of course, they need to come to some overall conclusions about the scope and limitations of the internet. 
Can a football website be categorised as a type of online service? Could it come under entertainment? And can search engines be categorised as a type of online service? 

A football website is definitely an example of online entertainment. The question is, if this is all students describe, would it be sufficient to give a flavour of the breadth of entertainment available on the web? You should ask yourself the same question about search engines - what do they tell us about the wealth of information available online? 

My students have chosen one aspect of each service and are describing this aspect in detail. For example, as an example of education services, one of my students has concentrated on online revision, written about it in general, given several different examples, created flash movies to demonstrate how revision sites work etc. At a recent Edexcel INSET course we were told that to get into Mark Bands 2 and 3, students must cover a wide range of aspects of each service. For education services they would be expected to look at online courses, VLEs etc., as well as online revision. Is our approach acceptable?

As mentioned, the ultimate aim for those wanting to maximise their achievement in this strand is to provide a clear and balanced picture of the scope and limitations of the internet as a whole. If students only focus on just one example of a type of online service, it will be difficult to extrapolate any overall conclusions. 

For assessment evidence (b), Mark Band 3, please could you clarify what students would need to cover to provide a "clear and balanced picture of life overall in the Information Age"? 

Students need to research a range of different types of service (see WYNTL Section 1.2) so as to be able to give a balanced picture of the scope and limitations of the internet as a whole. They need to think carefully about which services they are going to describe, bearing in mind that they must be able to extrapolate some general points about the current scope and limitations of the internet from their research. 
My students are thinking about how ICT is affecting people’s lives. Suggestions have included medical imaging such as MRI and even ultrasound which rely heavily on ICT, the use of massive databases such as the Human Genome Project, and/or data from particle accelerators. As long as it is in the correct context, that is, people's lives, and not an over-technical description of the technology, is this OK? 

Yes, of course.

If a student uses information from online newspapers/ journals does this count as an 'internet source' or a 'newspaper article/journal' source? 

A newspaper, whether onscreen or in print, is a particular type of source, as distinct from other types of sources such as textbooks, people, websites, television broadcasts and so on.

I have looked at e-books on the web, and most seem to be very similar to websites. I’ve been experimenting with different software and am considering using MS Publisher, MS PowerPoint or MS Word. What do you recommend?

The e-book for Unit 1 is meant to be a first stab at producing a document designed to be read onscreen rather than on paper. There is no prescribed format, although a hypertext structure is probably ideal. Any of the software packages you mention could be used, as could simple web authoring packages such as MS FrontPage or Serif WebPlus or professional packages such as Macromedia Dreamweaver.

The important thing is to put the emphasis on design and content, rather than on getting bogged down learning how to use an unnecessarily complex piece of software! 
What's the difference between an e-book and an eportfolio?

The e-book is a product of Unit 1 only. It should be a self-contained digital product in its own right, with a common 'look and feel' throughout. An eportfolio, on the other hand, is a collection of evidence. Students will use eportfolios to organise and submit their evidence for each coursework unit. The e-book will be one piece of evidence within the eportfolio for Unit 1.
Can students assume that internet access will still be available in 100 years’ time? The spec say the e-book has to stand alone and be self-contained. Does this preclude students putting in a link to additional information stored on their local network or hard drive?

We want something self-contained and not dependent on files or assets stored locally to which we could not get access. 

I am unsure about the exact nature of the evidence students will be expected to provide. For example, criterion (e) for Mark Band 3 is: 'carries out extensive testing and quality control of the e-book to ensure it functions correctly and is fully fit for purpose'. Do students actually have to provide evidence of testing or is the fact that the e-book works fully good enough?

We would expect to see some actual evidence of testing - an initial prototype and the final versions perhaps, along with any feedback received from test users and an indication of what changes were made - if any - as a result of testing. Candidates need to understand the purpose of testing: it is not just a hoop to jump through, but is intended to ensure that the e-book works properly and is fit for purpose. Copious evidence of testing without an e-book that works will not get a candidate into Mark Band 3!

For more information about what candidates must include in their eportfolios for each unit, see the ‘Moderation of eportfolios’ document on the A level Applied ICT course materials page

I have been busy creating an e-book in MS PowerPoint, which converts nicely into a web page. A colleague is also doing the same using Mediator (Matchware). However, the file which PowerPoint produces is extremely large - 60MB! It contains a few audio files, gifs, a short video etc., but not that many. Is there going to be any limit at all on the size of the eportfolio for Unit 1? 

There is a 30MB limit on the size of the unit 1 eportfolio students can submit. 60MB is definitely too big! This highlights the need to include a section on resolution, file formats and compression techniques within your scheme of work for this unit. Incidentally, Mediator will allow you to output in swf format, which is very efficient in terms of size, and you can get PowerPoint to Flash converters that do the same.

The ICT ‘Moderation of eportfolios’ document lists file size limits for each unit. You’ll find it on the A level Applied ICT course materials page

How will students evidence layout checking, proofreading and changes made as a result of end user feedback? Also, how should they evidence the work for criterion (d) - application of design principles and awareness of audience?  

Because we're going to get to 'read' their e-books, we can see for ourselves if they work. Therefore, some of the process evidence traditionally associated with VCE can be dispensed with. Similarly, we'll be able to judge fitness for purpose by looking at the e-book itself. 

I want my students to all do an e-book entitled ‘Life in the Information Age’, aimed at a student or adult audience. Is that OK?

Yes - I think students will find it a lot easier to design their e-books if they have a clear sense of audience and purpose. 

What exactly constitutes ' sophisticated application of multimedia design principles for onscreen publications'?

We'll be looking for indicators such as: 

  • an e-book designed with onscreen viewing in mind: layout, font size, colours, composition
  • consistent look and feel throughout
  • links that work and go where they're supposed to
  • consistent, easy-to-use navigation
  • good choice and use of digital assets
  • awareness of readability, usability and accessibility issues
  • evidence of up-front design, such as storyboarding and structure charts. 

How will you judge 'awareness of audience and purpose'?

We'll be looking for appropriate language and style, and some attempt at 'setting the scene' for an audience that won't know anything about context. 

What represents a range of multimedia components?

More than just text and still images; for higher mark bands, we'd expect to see some use of sound and/or digital video and/or animation. 

Can candidates earn more points if they produce their own video, or is it just as acceptable to select existing suitable video files from third parties? 

Students have to use a mixture of ready-made and original components, but the specification isn't specific about which type of component, so a student could for example use a ready-made video clip and an image they've created themselves. 

I can't decide whether to do the e-book in PowerPoint or Mediator. I have been given 10 weeks to get this unit complete and - given that it is an AS course - the students have knowledge of PowerPoint, and most have it on their machines at home, so I am being swayed towards PowerPoint. Are they more likely to gain higher marks with Mediator? 

It’s impossible to say, really. I think they'd probably enjoy using some different software, which may improve their motivation, which in turn could have a knock-on effect on their achievement. But both software packages are suitable for producing an e-book. 
Can an e-book be an essay written in MS Word, or a presentation produced in MS PowerPoint with links to websites, multimedia and articles, an appendix showing some of the 'how and where' they found the information, and then a bibliography of sources? This could then be converted to HTML format or to PDF. With regard to sources, do each of the following constitute a different source (one of the six different)? - Extracts from websites/ screen shots/ journal or magazine articles/ newspapers and news websites/ images/ e-books/ books and paper-based sources/ video and sound clips/ quotes from discussion groups?
I think the example eportfolio - even though it's not very good - answers most of these questions. The key characteristic of an e-book is that it is designed to be read onscreen and to take advantage of the medium to offer readers a multi-sensory experience. This one doesn't really do this: it’s more of an essay approach, with the odd image thrown in for good measure, which is why it doesn't get high marks in strands (d) and (e). 

I’ve been struggling to get any information on what actually constitutes an e-book, particularly as the specification seems to indicate that it needs to be multimedia, so creating an e-book with a .lit file extension is out. What format does an e-book take? What file extensions can it have and what software could be used to create it?

An e-book is simply a document that is designed to be read onscreen, and which takes advantage of the medium to provide a multi-sensory experience. There are lots of different ways of producing it; MS PowerPoint, Matchware Mediator, Macromedia MX are just a few of the many. Any open file format is acceptable, as are proprietary formats for which there's a downloadable reader/player.

Can you please clarify whether the e-book must only be self-contained within, say, PowerPoint, or whether students can have links to another file? We know they will do this in their eportfolios, but would like clarification for the e-book. 

This is an interesting design issue. The e-book should ideally be self-contained, with any related files stored within the same 'walled garden'. URL links to relevant websites are a moot point (and one students need to consider): what's the likelihood of those URLs still being there in 100 years? 

I have a problem with the e-book, which mainly stems from its treatment in the new Heinemann textbook. Does it have to be compiled? In other words, if you do it as a website, do you need to convert the site into an 'easy-to-distribute format ...(a) self-contained Windows program’ (p30)?

The e-book must be viewable via a browser. It does not have to be compiled, since its channel for viewing is the web. It's perfectly possible to provide a link to the front page of the e-book without having to go hunting for it, as demonstrated by the one on the tutor support website. 

There is no mention of storyboards or navigational charts in the specification. Will they need to be included in the portfolio? 

Storyboards and a structure chart are not specifically required, but they do help to demonstrate 'application of multimedia design principles' which is a key requirement of strand (d). We will definitely be expecting to see some evidence of design. That said, it should be possible to infer 'awareness' by looking at and using the final product.
How much detail do students have to include on their storyboards?

A storyboard is usually used as a vehicle for a designer to communicate what he/she wants done so that someone else has enough detail to implement it. However, this is a user-focused unit, and students are producing the e-book themselves. In this case, the storyboard has a slightly different function - it's a planning mechanism: "I'm going to use this colour scheme, this font type, size and style, these images ..." - and it's also a means of communicating the underlying thinking: "I've chosen an image of a lion because it represents independence and pride...".  

My students are busy working on their e-books and we have hit the sticky problem of testing. I have told them about user testing and testing against requirements and that side of it is OK. What about all the links? My students have the structure links that make up the e-book but they also have links in the pages to relevant articles on the web, and glossary links. For some students this could result in nearly 100 links in total. Do they have to do a test plan that tests all these links? 

We're not looking for a test plan and we're not looking for direct evidence of testing itself. If the book works properly, then we can infer that it has been properly tested for functionality. If it is easy to use and has an intuitive navigation system, then that tells us it's been tested for usability. I question why students have so many live links. What's the likelihood of any of them still being active in 100 years?

Many of my students have created e-books which seem to work fine on our network, but when I take them home they do not work on a stand-alone machine. It may have something to do with how FrontPage is set up on our network. I don't understand what students need to do to make them useable on CD-rom. If we publish the e-books as websites and the moderator looks at the e-books online at our college, they may work then.

It is absolutely essential that students' eportfolios are self-contained and can be accessed from a CD-rom. I suggest you consult your network manager or IT technician to find out what you can do to solve this problem. I suspect it has something to do with the relative and absolute addressing. 

The 30MB limit on size is restrictive. How are students supposed to include sound clips and video clips on such a low limit? 

In order to stay within the size limit, students will need to think carefully about which components to use in their e-books and will need to use appropriate resolution, file formats etc to make best use of the available space. 

Here is a question raised by one of my students. I am posting it mainly because I am impressed that he asked it and it made me think a bit ! "Current copyright law says that the copyright on a piece of music expires 70 years after the artist's death. As the e-book will not be published for another 100 years, could we freely put music from already dead or elderly artists into our e-book and not infringe on any copyright laws?" I told him he had to abide by current copyright laws and assume that the same laws will still exist in 100 years’ time! 

A very good question and equally good answer! 

Does all of the content have to be on the pages of the e-book or can there be links from the pages to external files? Do any external files have to be web pages?

The e-book pages can contain links to external files, providing these are stored in an appropriate format. These files do not have to be web pages. 

Will a working log also help evidence task a? 

For the testing, can students include a video clip of using the eportfolio to show everything works?

They can, but if the eportfolio is tested properly then the links, multimedia etc. should work when the moderator reviews the work. It is important for students to test their eportfolios once they are transferred to the CD-rom media. 

For this unit we thought that we would write the assignment around mobile phones, with group activities where students identify features that they would like for their phone from research of online sites, etc. This would then generate a good deal of information to create a data set that they could use to set up their database. Would this be acceptable?
That sounds fine - though there's no need for you to write an assignment unless you particularly want to. You can use the data sets that are published on the website and the Assessment Evidence section of the specification (p40).

Page 47 of Unit 2 refers to the students exploring the design of a commercial transactional website. However, the assessment criteria marking grid on p41 only refers to a suitable transactional website, not ‘commercial’. We would like to base the assessment around a large library. Would this be acceptable, as it is not commercial?
Students must investigate a transactional website that enables a visitor to make an online purchase which results in a product being delivered to them. The information flow diagrams should show maintenance of the shopping basket prior to checkout, and the back-office processes that occur thereafter, including payment processing, stock control and despatch. The problem with using a library is that nothing actually gets purchased or dispatched (or does it?).  
I am planning to visit a business using a transactional website to research the ‘back-office processes’ section of the unit, as my colleagues and I were unable to find any useful information in books or on the web. Have you got any tips on where I can find useful information or on any particular things to ask on such a visit?

It’s very hard to recommend any particular organisation. However, it wouldn't be surprising if Tesco or Boots prove more than willing to help. Both have transactional websites. It’s highly likely that students will find it easier to get their heads around a fairly small site rather than something as big and complicated as Amazon. 
How are students meant to tackle strand (b) - is it intended to be a 'best-guess' description of what's probably happening? Or are you looking for a description of what's actually happening in a specific site (which can't really be done without access to the back end)? And when it comes to diagramming, I'm thinking UML activity diagrams with swimlanes to distinguish between tiers, but I guess that's going to be a bit over the top?

Definitely 'best guess' in most cases, since it will be difficult to find out what actually is happening, although it would be brilliant if students could!
UML activity diagrams and swimlanes might be a bit over the top. Information flow diagrams or preferably a high-level DFDs would be sufficient.
Do you have any kind of recommendation on word count/number of pages? What would help a piece of work to fall into the higher mark bands? I realise that quantity needs to be balanced with quality, but if there is quality throughout, how much are we looking for to gain the top marks?

There are no guidelines on word count/page numbers, but it's worth bearing in mind that this is AS! From our experience, quality often loses out to quantity. 

A couple of my students are evaluating quite contrasting sites in terms of size. Will the student who is evaluating the bigger site lose marks if he doesn't evaluate in depth all the products and services that it offers? Can students evaluate categories of products as well as specific products? For example, on Comet's website they could mention that Comet sells home entertainment products rather than talking specifically about TVs, DVD players, hi-fis and home cinema systems. 

Students should not spend time evaluating the products, as the emphasis is on the design of the site. The purpose of the site and products needs to be addressed but students should look at 2.3 and 2.5 and look at these aspects and how the design of the site incorporates these. So the size of the site is not the main consideration, but more that a good range of features have been evaluated. Some students spend a lot of time listing all products sold rather than addressing the strand accurately.

With regard to suitable data sets that will be made available by Edexcel, will these be based on data from transactional websites?
Yes - although the data sets will be relatively simple, and capable of being stored in a database structure consisting of two tables linked by a 1:m relationship. There are already data sets available for you to use on the website, or alternatively you can produce your own. 
Please can you clarify whether students are required to create and use forms in this unit? 

No, they are not - forms are covered in Unit 7. 

I have put ‘yesterday’s sales’ into Access using the table analyser wizard, and have a number of questions:

  • Are students allowed to use the table analyser wizard?

The Analyser tends to make things more complicated than is needed and is not really a good approach for unit 2. 

  • On page 42 of the specification, you say the learner must ‘identify some significant trends, interpreting output’. Please confirm this means queries, or are graphs required as well?

We are not expecting students to do anything other than use searches and sorts to extract relevant information, though if they want to produce graphs they can. 

  • Does the database have to be transactional, or is this a separate exercise meant purely to demonstrate they can set up and use database software?

The idea was to make some sort of link between the study of transactional websites and the practical database work. It's not absolutely necessary to keep the same theme.

The specification says that for assessment criterion 2(c), students must include in their eportfolio 'a database which has been designed, built and tested to store a given set of data'. Are you actually expecting them to supply a database, or evidence of that database?

Microsoft Access files are not on the list of acceptable file formats for an eportfolio. Therefore, students will need to find alternative ways of evidencing their database work, such as annotated screen dumps saved as pdf or html documents. 

I understand that students are expected to produce a relational database. However, I have just received a textbook and the data import example is into one table only.

Students definitely do have to work with relational databases, albeit simple ones, which just goes to show that you should always follow the specification. 

You mention in the FAQs that table analyser could potentially be used. Do students have to do this?

Best if you steer clear of the table analyser - it tends to overdo it. Remember, we are looking for one 1:M relationship. There are possibilities of other tables, as they have to have something to mention when they validate their database - for instance, ‘If the database had a separate customer table then details could be saved, and if they wanted to buy something else they wouldn't have to resubmit their details’. The trouble is that the table analyser will recognise this and consequently produce other tables even if it worked properly (which, incidentally, it doesn't).

How can validation rules be set up without checking all of the data?

In the absence of a scenario to explain what the data set is about, students have to look at the data to see what is there. Students should import the data as it is into a single table and then analyse it. All things being equal, there should be plenty of scope for validation.

The next step is to split the data into two related tables. Any validation rules students decide to use should be incorporated into the structure of these tables prior to the data being imported into them.

We are doing 6952 and would like to know: for unit 2, should the centre provide the text files or does the exam board?

You can find the data sets for unit 2 on the website. You can provide your own or use these.

Am I supposed to create a scenario from the CD sales (that I've downloaded from the Edexcel website), or should the data be just given to the students who will make their own assumptions (without writing up a scenario)?

You can create a scenario which could take the form of advice. The scenario does not need to be detailed. 

Assuming that there is no scenario to be set, from the single table imported, looking at the different fields, would the students decide which two tables (or more) to choose for their database?

Yes. With or without a scenario, two tables should be created with appropriate relationships. 

Can the students do the following in the order presented below? Import data into one single table => create tables with all validations tested => relationships set => import relevant field data into corresponding fields created => extract valid and meaningful information?


I have seen the data set (CDs) for this unit. Is this a data set we can practise with, or is this the data set we should use for the assignment? If it is one we can practise with, when will you be releasing one for use with the assignment?

This data set can be used in any way you wish, so it can be used for the assignment, or centres can create their own to provide to candidates (the format and simplicity should be similar to the example data set).

In strand E on the mark guide, the criteria state that the learner fully evaluates ‘the performance of the database’ and ‘their own performance, incorporating feedback from others’, and ‘makes realistic recommendations for improvements’. By 'their own performance', do you mean their performance with the database or their performance with the entire unit?
Candidates should evaluate their own performance on the whole unit, highlighting the technical points and feedback from users. The database can be evaluated in its own right, as indicated within the assessment criteria. 

The website says that only two tables will be required for the database structure. Is this correct? We feel a transaction database would be many-to-many between customer and stock item, thus requiring a minimum of three tables?

Learners are required to produce at least two tables with a valid one-to-many relationship, and then use both tables to manipulate the data to produce trends, etc. Learners are not required to produce a complex relational database with normalisation to third normal, which would require four to five tables and is the requirement of Unit 7. Obviously, learners will not be penalised for creating a database structure with more than two tables, but it doesn't add to their marks.

Is this exam intended to be taken in January and June? When will the pre-release materials be available to centres? I also understand that the exam will probably be on paper and not online.  
The Unit 3 exam will be available in the January and June examination series each year. We will make the pre-release materials available to centres at least three working weeks beforehand.

Can students take notes into the Unit 3 exam? 


The specification is quite vague about the types of formulae that will be required, although the sample exam paper gives me an idea. Can you be more specific?

You may find it helpful to refer to the spreadsheet section of the National Occupational Standards for IT Users at Level 3 which spells out what is required. You can find this at www.e-skills.com. Just bear in mind, though, that this unit is about using spreadsheet models, not creating them - that comes later if students opt for Unit 11.

Do you recommend preparing students using the sample material from the website?

I would definitely advise you to use the materials on the website for practice. Students need to get used to working with complex spreadsheet models, and develop exam technique.

I realise that there are two worked examples on the website, but are they progressive, ie is the 21 August version more refined than the worked example of the 8 August 'Final version'?
They are two worked examples from two different students.

I am concerned that the sample assignment does not fully test the ‘What you need to learn’. Is it fully representative of the actual assignment? 
While it's important that students learn everything in the WYNTL, it is not a necessity for us to test everything every time. That said, this is an AS unit and should be challenging for Year 12 students, but not beyond them. The SAM covers a fair amount of the WYNTL. I think students have a lot to do in two hours. The emphasis is about using a model, not building one. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this is a spreadsheet unit!

We note that the specification for this unit states that the students should be able to use a range of ICT tools and techniques to carry out spreadsheet modelling tasks, including using formulae and function, eg mathematical, statistical, financial and relational. In the sample assessment material students are expected to use a VLOOKUP function. This is not listed in the specification. Could we please be given more detail about which functions to prepare the students to use for this assessment?  
There is more information about what is expected of learners operating at Level 3 in the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for IT Users. It is important to differentiate between formulae (including functions) which students must be able to produce themselves and those more complex ones that they aren't expected to produce but, whose purpose, they are expected to understand. The models used for the Unit 3 examination will have their fair share of these.

Will students be expected to use presentation software in the examination? 

For the foreseeable future the presentation of results is likely to be in word processed report format, although we haven't ruled out the possibility of asking students to present their findings.

Activity 4 of the SAM asks candidates to include ‘any other factors that management may need to take into account’. The mark scheme for this task suggests that they could get 10 marks for a list style/type response. Surely at AS Level we've moved away from this? 

The mark scheme suggests points that the marker should look out for within a candidate's response. It would be incorrect to infer that a list-style response is appropriate.

How do I obtain the data files?

You can download data files from the website. Please refer to the ICE document which is published on the A level Applied ICT course materials page three weeks before the exam window. You should download the data files as early as possible. 

Can candidates get up and fetch their printouts during the examination?

Candidates are not expected to spend all the time in the examination working at the computer. The length of time allocated for the examination is such that candidates will have time to print out and collect their printouts as their work progresses, thus building in a natural break from screen work. They should also spend time reviewing their work once it is printed to check that layout, styling and sizing are appropriate and fit for purpose.

How long is the exam? 

The exam is 2 hours and 30 minutes long and incorporates the printing and collating of candidate work. This has been approved by the QCDA through centre feedback.

Our centre is conducting the 6953 exam, and we would like information or files for running the exam. We’d also like to know the date for the pre-release.

The Information for the Conduct of Examinations (ICE) document is currently on the A level Applied ICT course materials page.

The pre-released scenario will be released three weeks before the examination. Candidates will have the opportunity to use the scenario and model. The data files will also be released on Edexcel Online. The data files are part of the exam and must be kept in a secure part of your network until the examination.

How do we notify Edexcel of our schedule within the window for candidates sitting the exam?

Centres must produce a schedule showing the date and time of each examination session to be held within the window. An examination schedule pro forma for this can be found in the ICE document. This schedule must be submitted in writing to the Compliance and Business Assurance Group at Pearson, 190 High Holborn, London WC1V 7BH at least three working weeks before the window begins.

What are the procedures for the Applied A level ICT 6953 practical exam when there is a back-to-back exam on one day? 

Please refer to Section 1 of the ICE document. There is no specified number of exam sessions in a day. It is important that after each exam session the candidate’s work areas are cleared and a different password is set up for each session. This will avoid any security breach or submitting of other candidates’ work as being their own.

I am not sure what the idea behind this small part of the mark scheme is: ‘... provides a brief description of at least two existing systems that meet similar needs.’ 
There is some clarification of what was intended on page 64, section 4.1: Needs Analysis. Having identified the client's needs, students are expected to investigate existing ICT systems that might meet those needs. There's no point reinventing the wheel - if someone has already come up with a solution to the same or a similar problem, it's worth looking into and evaluating. We're not expecting students to necessarily produce the solution to the client's needs themselves (this would almost certainly constrain their investigation); instead, we want them to identify and evaluate possible third-party solutions.

I'm concerned that there appears to be a lot of research into existing systems as well as the design of a new system. I have in the past taught the A level in ICT and the unearthing of an end user has always been an issue. Is it acceptable to: 

  1. Provide a group of students with a case study to work from in the design of their new system?
  2. Provide a series of case studies for students to use, with input from a teacher as the end user, as existing systems?

It's perfectly acceptable to use a case study. Students do need to investigate the client's requirements, though, so you will have to indulge in some role play - tell them some of the information they need up front, and withhold some of it until they ask you the right questions. They don't have to build the system investigated in (a), all they have to do is produce a specification for it, so you can be as inventive as you want.

Would it be acceptable for a student to treat advertised PC systems on suppliers' websites (eg Dell) as the ‘third-party solutions’, or are they expected to research two additional real users?

It would be perfectly acceptable for students to treat systems advertised by suppliers such as Dell as third-party solutions, providing they meet the client's needs.

I have a pupil who is conducting a needs analysis on a client who runs a farm. She has found out that there are a number of existing packages that would meet the client’s needs. Should she investigate these?

If there are already bespoke systems out there that do similar things, then that is what the student should investigate.

Could you give me an example of a detailed case study, as I am not sure how much detail is required?

Students need a client - real or imaginary - whose needs they can investigate. If you only give them a one-liner, they won't be able to carry out a thorough investigation. 

What they need as a starting point is some detailed information about the client: some of it relevant and some irrelevant, examples of the sort of tasks they want to be able to do, information about how much they're willing to spend, their ICT capability, etc. Ideally, students should be able to formulate questions for the client and get answers. If you can get someone to role-play the client, even better! 

I am not expecting students to use project management software for this unit. Are you expecting students to produce complex plans? Must they produce a Gantt chart? What evidence of monitoring should they provide? Can assessors provide witness statements to back this evidence up?

Remember, this is an AS unit, so we're not looking for anything overly complex or sophisticated. What's wrong with an MS Excel spreadsheet? Gantt charts are optional. It should not be necessary for assessors to provide witness statements - the plan with comments should speak for itself.

Can you suggest any software that students can use for project planning? MS Project is too expensive and too complicated.

There's loads of project management software listed when you do a Google search. Try: Project KickStart, an easy-to-use project management program for small to medium-sized projects. The software focuses on both planning a project and creating a project schedule for easier management, with a free download available. Also, Plan for Windows is a project planner which is similar to, and compatible with, Microsoft Project. Plan for Windows is supported on Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP-based desktop PCs. A 30-day trial is available. 

I would like to see what an E-grade versus an A-grade website looks like in terms of features.

The differentiation between E and A as far as the website is concerned is as follows:

  • strand (b) - the quality/depth of the investigation carried out into the client's needs and the documentation produced
  • strand (c) - the functionality of the website and the extent to which it meets the client's needs. This will largely depend on the amount/effectiveness of the prototyping carried out, the test users selected and use of feedback received

What do you actually mean by flowcharts? I cannot think that you are referring to the ‘traditional’ flowchart? 

Flowcharts show possible pathways, that is, if a user clicks here he/she goes to this page -  pretty standard website design stuff.

Is it possible to give all of the students the same scenario from which they can build their own website?

There's no reason why your students shouldn't all produce a website for the same client. You would have to be sure, though, that each of them designs and produces their website independently. 

Do students have to link their websites to a database, or is this something they could suggest as an enhancement?

There's no requirement for students to link their websites to a database or even to upload it to a web server. This is only an AS unit! The emphasis is more on establishing a client's requirements and producing something that meets those needs.

Do students have to provide DFDs as part of the analysis stage?

It would not be appropriate to produce DFDs as part of the design process for a website; a structure chart, storyboards and possibly a flowchart of the interactivity built in are all more relevant.

Is there a minimum number of pages that students need to have in their website? Also, would you recommend the use of frames?

We haven't been specific about number of pages because - ideally - students will be working to a brief from a client. That said, they're not expected to have to meet hugely complex or demanding requirements. 

If frames are the best way to meet the client's requirements, then students should use them. They should certainly know how and when to use tables to lay out page content.

Here are some of the ideas for websites that my students have come up with. My main concern with some of them is that they are not companies as such. However, to be eligible for a 'brochure' website, I have urged the non-company ones to put a commercial slant on their work. Band website - producing a website for a band. They can be booked for gigs, etc., and there will be pages for photos and music clips of previous performances. Football club - a merchandising section of a local football club website. At the moment there is no section, so the student will create a link off the current website to create the merchandising sub-site. Mobile disco - nothing exists so the student is starting from scratch with hire costs and timetables for potential customers to look at. Public house - Outline of services offered and prices for booking the venue, etc. What do you think?

I am concerned that this approach is putting the 'cart before the horse'. It's not up to students to 'come up with ideas'. They are expected to work with client briefs, not invent possible scenarios for themselves. A better approach would be for you to present them with a number of alternatives, all requiring students to investigate the client's requirements and produce a website that meets those requirements.

For evidence of development, can students put a link to their website and briefly describe the main components used, with a witness statement from the tutor to evidence that they have seen the students working on their site? Or do students HAVE to provide a screenshot of each stage of them creating their site? Could students create a video of them creating the site? Which is the best way to evidence this section (c)?

Screenshots with explanations are adequate.

In Unit 6, my students are upgrading their system by adding a service pack 4 to Windows 2000, and installing Zone Alarm firewall and AVG anti-virus. They do not have access to the internet on their built machines because of security restrictions on the college network. They have performed the installations from a CD which I have prepared for them. How can I advise them to ‘thoroughly test to ensure full functionality’ of these software installations without access to the internet? Is it acceptable for them to describe in detail what tests they would perform if they had the necessary access?

Your candidates can describe in detail the tests that they would perform. Also, they should be able to access websites from school computers, home etc. and take screenshots (and add these to their eportfolios with descriptions) to show some degree of testing. Provided that the steps that would be taken are clearly described and evidence up to the point of actually accessing the internet is supplied, this will be fine.

What is the difference between web conferencing and video conferencing? Both are mentioned in the WYNTL of Unit 6.

The difference is blurring. At one time, video conferencing facilities enabled participants to see and hear each other, that is, to take part in a virtual meeting. Nowadays, packages such as Click-to-Meet provide sophisticated conference management tools and facilities for document sharing and other collaboratively computer-based activities. Web conferencing software such as Macromedia Breeze do much the same, although depending on bandwidth and number of participants they sometimes restrict the use of sound and video to presenters only, with other participants only able to listen and view and key in their questions/comments.

Is the inclusion of a forum (bulletin board) an acceptable web-based collaborative tool? If so, under which type in section 6.6 should it be considered, or can it be considered as one of the four types in its own right?

With regard to Q1, I would say that a bulletin board does not provide a means of interaction; therefore, it is not a collaborative working tool.

Can you confirm that for Mark Band 3, a student should consider a minimum of 12 (ie three for each type) different examples of collaborative tools?

Yes, MB3 asks for at least three examples for the four tools.

Is there any advice on how we should prepare students for the 10-hour supervised working time?
Please refer to the ICE document on the A level Applied ICT course materials page.
How do we notify Edexcel of our schedule within the window for candidates sitting the exam?
You must produce a schedule showing the date and time of each examination session to be held within the window. You can find an examination schedule pro forma for this in the ICE document. This schedule must be submitted in writing to the Compliance and Business Assurance Group at Pearson, 190 High Holborn, London WC1V 7BH at least three working weeks before the window begins. 
The Unit 7 SAMs have three csv files that are then split into five tables in the database in the worked example. The only way that I can think to do this is to import the bookings table into Excel, then split the data up into the four tables (booking, car, session, driver). This is very time-consuming. Is there a more efficient method? I cannot get the table analyser in Access to perform this task.

  1. Import them as temporary tables into Access
  2. Use append queries to load the relevant data into the tables.

In the 'Instructions for the Conduct of Examinations' (ICE) for Unit 7 - Using database software, it states that candidates are allowed manufacturer's computer manuals. Can these be any Access-specific manuals?

Yes - the idea is that if they do not know how to do something, they can look it up. 

We have been working through the database on last year’s exam (as provided online). The design is fine, and we have built the tables and imported the data. Where we are stuck is how to get the database to find the 'rejected records.' Our input masks/ validation rules work when we are manually entering data, but will not eliminate records when we are appending from the main tables into the new tables.
Input masks only work on the input of data and are therefore not classed as a form of validation. To do a format check in Access, the ‘Like’ function has to be used in the validation rule - for example, Like [A-Z][A-Z]### will require two characters followed by three numbers.

That input masks do not work on import is a Microsoft decision. When the SAMs were originally written, input masks did appear to work on import. Because they no longer do, the way we test validation has changed slightly, and the exams will require test data to be input.

Validation rules should work on import, and if they do not then there is something wrong with the version of Access being used. 

In the ICE document, it says that there should be a 10:1 student-to-printer ratio. Is this recommended or mandatory?

The 10:1 ratio is a recommendation as to how many candidates would be appropriate for each printer. Having fewer candidates is not a problem. However, having more could slow down the exam and cause queues at the printer. 

The length of session for the 6957 exam is ten hours. The ICE document says a minimum of one hour is required per session. Can these be 50-minute sessions, or must it be one hour? Our lessons are 50 minutes long.

A minimum of one hour is recommended to give candidates sufficient time to complete the task. Just keep a record of how long you spend overall, and be sure that each candidate has no less than 10 hours in total time for the exam.

Is there any advice on how we should prepare students for the 10-hour supervised working time?
Please refer to the ICE document found on the A level Applied ICT course materials page.

How do we notify Edexcel of our schedule within the window for candidates sitting the exam?
You must produce a schedule showing the date and time of each examination session to be held within the window. You can find an examination schedule pro forma for this in the ICE document. This schedule must be submitted in writing to Compliance and Legal Services at Pearson, 190 High Holborn, London WC1V 7BH at least three working weeks before the window begins.

Will the software Network Notepad (Freeware) be sufficient for use in designing networks in the Applied ICT Unit 9, Communications and networks?
Yes, this is one we recommended a long time ago. This is not the most user-friendly way, but does the job well. See Network Notepad (Freeware)

Can we penalise students for handing work in late?
Almost every Assessment Criteria grid has one strand that refers to adherence to relevant standard ways of working (SWW).

SWW includes personal effectiveness and mentions use of a plan to help organise work and meet deadlines. If students need frequent prompting in order to meet their deadlines, they will be relegated to Mark Band 1 for that strand, provided meeting deadlines is relevant in that instance.

In Unit 5, strand (c), for example, meeting the deadline to get the client website up and running is clearly essential, whereas in Unit 1, strand (d), acknowledging sources and respecting copyright are going to be important.

If assessors decide to limit students to Mark Band 1 because they failed to meet the deadline, even if the actual evidence they present is worthy of a higher mark band, they will need to add a comment to the e-record sheet to explain the apparent discrepancy between mark and evidence.

Is this e-book an example of what students are supposed to produce? I was thinking of something much more detailed and elaborate. It also seems to stick to the suggested topics in the spec. For instance, for 'Life in the Information Age' I was thinking of suggesting they do narrower topics related to the broad aspects given in the spec, for example terrorism as part of crime or personal relationships as part of communication. I was also going to ask them to do a multimedia PowerPoint for each one. Am I going in the wrong direction? 
This e-book is a not brilliant example of what we expect students to produce. The topics in the spec are not 'suggested'; they're what students are expected to cover - see the Assessment Guidance for advice on how to mark their work. 
It's perfectly acceptable to use MS PowerPoint to produce the e-book, although it is important that students design the e-book as a self-contained 'whole' rather than three separate entities. Your suggested approach focusing on specific aspects of a topic is valid, provided the students are still able to extrapolate some general points about the scope and limitations of the internet as a whole or the impact of ICT on life in the Information Age.

The eportfolio cover sheet contains a link to design documentation, but I can find no specific reference to the need for this evidence in the assessment criteria. Will students lose marks if this evidence is not submitted? 
We are looking for evidence of application of multimedia design principles. An up-front design of the overall structure of the e-book is one way of demonstrating awareness. That said, it should be possible to infer awareness by looking at and using the final product.

Please can you confirm whether the eportfolio can be created using MS PowerPoint, or whether you’d prefer it to be created in html format?
There are lots of tools that students can use to create an eportfolio: PowerPoint is one of them, FrontPage would be equally good. I've seen some excellent eportfolios created with mind-mapping software. Students need to be able to create html pages with hyperlinks to items of evidence. 

As part of the eportfolio, will candidates be expected to include an implementation log?

Not as a general rule. However, they may decide to keep a log of their practical activities for Units 4, 5 and 6 and include this in their eportfolios for these units.

Can students use Matchware's Mediator to create their e-books and eportfolios? There isn't a free viewer as far as I know, but the presentations created in it can be exported to a standalone .exe file. Is this acceptable, or would you only allow .swf files generated by Mediator? 

The .swf and .htm files that Mediator creates are fine. It would appear that Mediator also generates a number of other files as part of the conversion process. A standalone .exe file is not part of the acceptable file format. 

You specify that the eportfolio for Unit 1 must be no more than 30MB. Is this for the e-book or the whole eportfolio? I appreciate that these components can be compressed, but it still seems a small allowance for the amount of elements required. 
30MB should be more than enough for the complete eportfolio for Unit 1. Please refer to eportfolio guidance document (on the A level Applied ICT course materials page) for a list of file sizes for each unit.

Can we use the eportfolio front sheets as the homepage for each unit and add links or a link to the evidence?
Yes, of course.

Is .mht is a permitted format?
Yes, this is viewable in a browser.

Are there any textbooks being written for GCE Applied ICT?

We produce our own Edexcel resources written by Trevor Heathcote (Principal Examiner) and Steve Farrell. The series is called Edexcel GCE in Applied ICT and the first resource to publish in this series is the AS Student's Book and ActiveBook. This will be accompanied by a site licence of the ActiveBook and a Teacher's CD-rom.

The Hodder Murray text is also due out shortly. The authors are Chris Guy (one of our Principal Moderators) and Sean O'Byrne, and the ISBN is 0340907282. There's a CD of resources to accompany the book. For further information, visit the Hodder Education website. The publishers are happy to send out a photocopy of a sample chapter on request.

I've bought the E-Tutors GCE e-book. Do you have any advice about students following their workbook, and could you recommend e-textbook resources? 
According to the publishers, they have been receiving excellent feedback from schools. You can find out more at www.elearningtutors.co.uk.

You mentioned the e-skills website. I have looked on this and can't find anything about what skills year 12/13 should have at this stage. Is there such a list? 

We were referring to the e-skills National Occupational Standards for IT Users which set out what learners are expected to be able to do at Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the National Qualifications Framework (GCE Applied ICT is a Level 3 qualification). There is a mapping at the end of each unit to the relevant section of the standards. You can see the e-skills standards for IT Users here.

Can you recommend a PDF writer? 
Numerous PDF writers are available to download from the web; most are printer drivers, for example Pdf995 which is pretty basic but does the job. At some point it was priced at $9.95, but you can download it for free if you don't mind the advertising. PDFCreator is supposed to be good, as is FlashPaper (priced at around £50).

Do you know of any free screen-recording software?
Try Wink.

Am I right in thinking that if anything in Mark Band 1 is missing, the student scores zero (because Assessment Guidance section states 'To be eligible for Mark Band 1, learners MUST...'), and that a student can only score in Mark Band 2 if the minimum requirements for access to Mark Band 2 are met?
The Assessment Guidance spells out exactly what students have to achieve to be eligible for marks in a Mark Band. If a student has met all the requirements to be eligible for Mark Band 2, for example, he/she will also have done everything necessary to be eligible for full marks in Mark Band 1.

Do the same reports/queries produced by all candidates constitute over-guidance?

Yes, to an extent, if the work is completely identical, but students can customise the reports and queries which shows some independence. Again, we would suggest that for some mid- to low-mark-band students this may be the only satisfactory way to enable them to achieve their potential.

Is a higher degree of guidance justifiable due to the vocational nature of the course?
Yes, but as in the case of other qualifications, students should be enabled through teaching to work independently to complete coursework. There will of necessity be guidance when students are planning to interview the user(s) or other adult (from an organisation). Teaching professionals should be 'translating' the specification so that students can understand what is required. Clearly, they need guidance in the phrasing of questions if they are going to conduct an interview - but this is teaching, not guidance that would impede the possibility of independent working. A common questionnaire devised by the group during a taught lesson would not necessarily produce all the same answers and analyses. 
Is the Assessment Criteria Guide used to ‘best fit’ students into mark bands?
This is what the Assessment Criteria Guide is striving to achieve. Holistically, this could happen, but there has to be some concrete evidence or documented professional judgment with which the moderator must agree. You cannot simply ‘best fit’ a student into MB2 to get a 'C' just because they are getting a C elsewhere - otherwise what would be the point of doing the coursework in the first place?

Do we need to annotate candidates’ portfolio work?
Annotation is a mandatory requirement for internally assessed work. As a minimum, teachers must complete the annotation column on the mark record sheet by listing the portfolio page number(s) where evidence can be found for each of the assessment criteria. However, moderators do find more detailed annotation on the work itself extremely useful, since it pinpoints evidence of achievement of particular assessment criteria. 

Will the moderator want to see all of the eportfolios for a particular student, or will he/she ask for a selection of eportfolios from different students for each unit? Will the sample size still be five? 
The sample size will depend on the number of candidates entered for a particular unit. The sample candidates will be randomly selected by our system and marked with a tick on Edexcel Online. All units entered by the centre will be subject to moderation no matter how many candidates are entered.

If we elect to have Units 1 and 2 moderated in January, will students be allowed to improve their work and have these units re-moderated in June or vice versa? If this is acceptable, is there any charge for this to the centre?
Students can resubmit an improved eportfolio work for moderation. This will carry a cost (as any resit does).

Which candidates’ work should I send to the moderator?
This information is available once the examinations officer logs on to Edexcel Online and selects the GCE qualifications. Please note that samples for each of the units are likely to be sent to different moderators. Please refer to the Guidance for Centres on the A level Applied ICT course materials page of the website - this will give detailed instructions on the sampling.

Is there a Candidate Mark Record sheet for all units?

Yes. These are compulsory, and centres must use them to provide the mandatory detailed annotation to aid the moderation of the work, including professional judgment.