Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seven most important P3 topics of Computing 9691

Seven topics when they appear hold approximately 30% of total P3 marks. This simply implies (looking at the latest threshold) that passing P3 exam becomes easier with proper understanding of these important topics.

Most of the times 3 of these 7 topics co-appear and every one of them hold 10% approx marks of the total P3 marks. Check out the topical past papers and yearly past papers here.

Names of the topics appear below in order they appear in syllabus:
  1. Interrupts
  2. Lexical analysis
  3. Fetch-Decode-Execute-Reset cycle
  4. 3.4(a-e); Mostly combined in a question as parts and mainly worked around floating point notations
  5. Bacus Naur form (can be combined with syntax diagram)
  6. Reverse polish and Infix notations
  7. Entity relationship diagram (ERD)
View 9691/03 Statometer to know the frequency of further P3 chapters and topics in past papers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The keywords in a question.

Each question may have a stem, but will then have a keyword at the start of the question sentence. These keywords have specific meanings:

A simple statement of fact, this may be a one word answer. Questions like this will be the only occasion that a one word response is acceptable.
An operating system contains a number of different types of utility programs.
State three utility programs that would be available in all personal computer operating systems.          [3]
The expected answers are: File handlers; virus checkers; hardware drivers…
A single word or phrase is all that is required. Other correct answers are possible and the candidate will get credited for these but be careful of grey areas…

Generally requires a sentence for a mark.
The software needed to solve a problem can most easily be produced by splitting the main problem into modules.
Give two reasons why the problem should be modularised.                                      [2]
‘The program is produced faster’ would be a ‘state’ type of answer. Compare that with: ‘The program can be produced faster because different programmers can work on the different modules.’ Notice how this also raises the answer above an IGCSE type of response into a higher level type of response.

The candidate has to say something and then expand on what they have said for a second mark. The describe type of question is normally worth two marks per point.
Describe the features of a spreadsheet package that allow models to be set up.
·         A spreadsheet has rows and columns forming cells in which data items can be kept
·         A spreadsheet gives the user the ability to use formulas in order to calculate specific values based on others which may themselves alter
·         A spreadsheet gives the user a series of pre-determined formulas which can be used to manipulate data
The question is which of these answer the question that has been asked? How many of them is the candidate expected to come up with? How many marks is each one worth?
A word-processing package is used by both a technical author and an office secretary. The author uses it to produce scientific books, the secretary uses it for letters to customers.
a) Describe two features of a word-processor that would be important to the author but not necessarily to the secretary.                                                                                                                         [4]
b) Describe two features of the word-processor which would be important to the secretary but not necessarily to the author.                                                                                                   [4]
We would expect the answer to part (a) to include thesaurus, special symbols, technical dictionary, page numbering, autoformat…
For part (b) the candidate should think about mail merge, standard letter templates, images…
The answers above would each be worth a mark but this is a describe question. The second mark needs to be for a description: Thesaurus for looking up synonyms of words; mail merge to send letters to all the people in a particular town who are also customers of the firm.
Note the layers!

Tends to be very similar to describe except that the first point has already been given. ‘Explain mail merging using a word processor’. There is now no mark for ‘mail merge’.
… Explain why the mail merge feature of the word processor would be useful to the secretary.            [4]
·         Because the secretary does not have to conduct their own search of the customer database in order to find those inhabitants who are customers.
·         This will save paper and postal costs because they will not have to write individual letters to too many people.
One way of asking an explain question is to ask for advantages and disadvantages of something. The format of the questions makes the candidate consider both sides of an argument and should involve a conclusion of some sort.

A very rare type of question as it typically asks for a prose type of answer. We do not expect prose answers at all and consequently would still want this answered in bullet point form. A discussion question should always contain points from both sides of an argument and should ideally come to a conclusion.
Discuss the use of the Internet by young people in school time.                               [6]
Notice the high tariff for this question in comparison to others.
Inevitably the higher marks are expected to be attainable only by the higher ability candidates.

With thanks to Chris Leadbetter.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

All about CIE Grading System, Grade Threshold, High Achievers Criteria, and IBCC Equivalence

About %ages:

Your subjects are divided into two wide categories, namely quantitative and qualitative. Mostly science subjects, computing and accounts (I am not sure about a/c; ask your center if teacher doesn't know) belong to quantitative category, rest of the subjects are qualitative.
All quantitative subjects have 5% higher required %age for earning same grades as qualitative, i.e.
Quantitative %ages are: A* >= 90, A >= 80, B >= 70 .... U < 40
Qualitative %ages are: A* >= 85, A >= 75, B >= 65 .... U < 35

How are Cambridge IGCSE grade thresholds determined?

**By Professional judgement of the principal examiners. If a question paper proves to have been easier or harder than the equivalent paper in the previous year, we raise or lower the thresholds to compensate the students. That way it remains just as hard or easy to obtain a certain grade in the subject from one year to another.

How many marks are required to achieve each grade?

This varies from year to year in the light of the difficulty of the papers.
(Source: )

**Yey mazaq lagta heiy kay bagher kisi criteria kay A and B grades set kar deyay jaen. And see, who is determining the complexity of paper? Those who have set it and will assess it and not those who are attempting it or helping them.

The grade thresholds are determined after the examination has been set. Since it is impossible to set questions at exactly the same standard from year to year, there will always be a difference between the grade thresholds from one year to another. (If the questions are thought to have been more difficult than in previous years, the threshold is lowered, and vice versa). As you will see from the data on the teachers' website, however, the discrepancy is usually very small. (Source: Peter Cann,

A* is awarded to the top 3% of candidates in the particular cohort over the total number of papers for the same subject, i.e. aggregate marks. It is therefore a purely mathematical calculation independent of grade descriptors, and for this reason centres should not be using A* as an internal assessment grade. (Sorce:

When will the A* grade at Cambridge International A Level first be awarded?

CIE is issuing grade A* at Cambridge International A Level but not at Cambridge International AS Level from the June 2010 examination onwards. CIE’s A* will depend on the candidate’s total mark for all the papers contributing to their Cambridge International A Level result, including the Cambridge International AS Level. A* grades will not be awarded at component level.
A* grades will not be awarded at Cambridge International AS Level. Candidates who have performed very well in Cambridge International AS Level and continue to do well could be awarded an A* at the end of the Cambridge International A Level course as their Cambridge International AS result will contribute to their Cambridge International A Level result and it is the total mark for all the papers which will decide on the A* grade.
For more information, please refer to section 8.2.1 of the Handbook for Centres

The thresholds (minimum marks) for Grades C and D are normally set by dividing the mark range between the B and the E thresholds into three. For example, if the difference between the B and the E threshold is 24 marks, the C threshold is set 8 marks below the B threshold and the D threshold is set another 8 marks down. If dividing the interval by three results in a fraction of a mark, then the threshold is normally rounded down.

Grade Thresholds are published for all GCE A/AS and IGCSE subjects where a corresponding mark scheme is available. (Source:

A level equivalence formula of 2011

A level equivalence Efforts under way to revise formula

Karachi, Dec 14: The conversion formula for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) A level is likely to be revised from the next academic year, ie 2011, in the light of marathon sessions held during the past couple of years between the Inter-Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) and the Cambridge University, it was learnt.

A three-member delegation of the IBCC - a body of the federal ministry of education and whose certificates are binding and applicable throughout Pakistan - left for London on Saturday to discuss a number of proposals concerning the revision formula for GCE O level and A level with senior officials of British examining bodies, in general, and the Cambridge International Examination (CIE) system, in particular, at meetings scheduled for Dec 13 and 14.

The IBCC delegation comprising Board of Intermediate Education Karachi (BIEK) chairman Prof Anwar Ahmed Zai, Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) Lahore chairman Prof Ahmed Kashmiri and IBCC secretary Mohammad Ramzan Achakzai has been tasked by the ministry of education to have a detailed discussion with the British examining bodies and the CIE for different proposals aimed at taking a final decision concerning the IBCC conversion formula for GCE O level and A level exams.

These proposals formulated by the IBCC Equivalence Committee are as follows: IBCC may equate both Grade A* and Grade A to 85 numbers as considered in the IGCSE (before 2010) and Grade F and Grade G might be treated as fail; it may apply 7.5 per cent deduction of each subject on percentage uniform marks. For stance, if a student gets 88 uniform marks in English, the IBCC should equate it to 81 and the same pattern may apply on all subjects; it may equate the uniform marks envisaging the CIE Letter grade A*, A, B, C, D and E will be at par with IBCC equivalent marks of 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 and 40, respectively; IBCC may continue the Equivalency on the prescribed formula approved in the 115th Equivalence Committee meeting and in future the IBCC restrict the CIE to award A* to limited the number of students, who get 90 and above marks.
According to IBCC sources, the revision of the conversion formula for GCE O and A levels had earlier been discussed in various meetings of the IBCC and in the follow-up meetings the CIE in its reply had insisted that A*/A1 grade shall be equated to 90 marks.

However, it was during the 10th Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference (IPEMC) the matter was discussed on the request of the Sindh education department and it was agreed that if the United Kingdom examination bodies were ready to print actual marks instead of standardised percentage on the certificate, the IBCC/ministry of education might consider the same for conversion.
Later on the IBCC forum discussed a proposal with British examining bodies to use A-1/A* in GCE O level whereby for high achievers (1-2 per cent) of Pakistani students and A* would be equated to 90 marks and A to 85 marks, the sources said, adding that this was, however, subject to agreement between the education ministry (IBCC) and the UK exams bodies on specific percentage of A-1/A*.
Moreover, printing of percentages with O/A level grades being irrelevant and used in Pakistan only will have to be stopped for uniformity of their certificates while a limit in terms of a specific percentages of straight A-1/A* achievers would be required to determine so as to ensure equal opportunities for both the streams particularly in professional institutions of Pakistan, the sources added.It was further resolved at a meeting of the IBCC, British Council, CIE and Edexcel that CIE will introduce an A* for O level and A level in 2010. Edexcel will also introduce A-1/A* grade for O/A levels in 2010 and the IBCC on its part was to ensure that the overall number of candidates receiving these higher grades remains proportionate.

They said that though a consensus had already been reached among all the concerned examining bodies about the IBCC conversion formula for GCE O and A levels, some observations which have come to light while going through the results of GCE O and A levels announced by CIE on Aug 12, 2010, will be raised by the IBCC delegation at their meetings with the CIE and other British examining bodies during their visit to the Cambridge University.

Listing the observations which had come to light in the wake of above-mentioned results of the CIE, the sources said these include a) a large number of students got A* although CIE had agreed that A* would be awarded to limited students, b) CIE also print uniform marks on the statement of results of GCE O/A level in Pakistan, c) Edexel has also announced GCE O and A levels on Aug 20, 2010 but it did not introduce A* grade in GCE 'O' and 'A' level for June 2010.

It is, however, worth mentioning that all those students who passed their GCE O level in June 2010 had been admitted to first-year classes in the public sector colleges on the basis of grades they had obtained following the introduction of A* grade although issues concerning revision of the IBCC conversion formula in the light of the observations made by the IBCC following announcement of GCE O/A level results of 2010 by the CIE are yet to be sorted out and for which the IBCC delegation had gone to the Cambridge University.

(Source: dated: 13 Dec 2010

CIE Criteria for High Achievers

This section is based on the response by the CIE.

Top in the World refers to the learner who has gained the highest standard mark in the world for a single subject. This learner will be awarded the Cambridge Top in the World award.
There may be other learners in the world, or even in the same country, who scored exactly the same mark; since their achievement is equal they will receive equal recognition and will also be awarded the Cambridge Top in the World award for that subject.

Top in Country refers to the learner who has gained the highest standard mark in the country for a single subject. This learner will be awarded the Cambridge Top in Country award.
There may be other learners in that country who scored exactly the same mark; since their achievement is equal they will receive equal recognition and will also be awarded the Cambridge Top in Country award for that subject.

Top in Region refers to the learner who have gained the highest mark standard mark in the region for a single subject.
If the subject has been awarded at Top in Country level, the subject will not be awarded for the same region.

CIE sets criteria to ensure that award winning learners are selected from a sufficiently representative sample. This is to maintain the integrity and value of awards.

NB: This article is purely research based and for the information purpose only. Author assumes no responsibility whatsoever for any wrong, outdated or questionable content included here.

By: Zafar Ali Khan

Zafar Ali Khan "ZAK" is an O/A level Computer Science Pakistani educator, entrepreneur, and former programmer. He supports a free online education platform to impart O and A level resources. His resources include notes, video lectures, online discussion groups, an artificial intelligence based virtual assistant, upcoming Android and IOS based apps and a website.

ZAK is teaching a wide spectrum of learners, mainly focusing on Computer Science 2210 and 9608. ZAK has a stellar online following, which is evident from his 50,000+ online followers. These exist wherever CIE is offered.

ZAK has taught in many auspicious and renowned institutes throughout Karachi for the past 18 years. His teaching methods coupled with his most innovative digital resources helped students achieve outstanding grades including distinctions in CIE. ZAK is an associate of The Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE), which is a Parastatal body, working under the aegis of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources of Mauritius. ZAK's yearly seminars and one-day marathon classes are very famous among the learners.

Before opting for a full-time teaching profession, ZAK has had the privilege of being associated with renowned public and corporate organizations. He has worked in a diversified array of the large local and international corporations both as a part of them and as a consultant. This wide array of organizations commence from Pakistan Army Engineering Corps to the Galileo Emirates, Dubai and The Acutus NY, USA. Industries that ZAK has experienced with, before opting for a teaching profession, are engineering, pharmaceutical, digital video R&D and customer reservation system (CRS). His expertise as application developer, IT administrator, project manager and IT teacher in a wide variety of business applications has always helped him in innovating teaching styles and resources.

ZAK can be reached at:

Monday, May 02, 2011

Tips for last hours before CIE exam.

  1. Solve past papers in latest to oldest order.
  2. Write in bullets. See for details.
  3. AS pupils: Solve algorithm slides given over site's resource page under Algorithms section.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Don't miss any topic. There is a big chance that unusual topics appear and ways adapted by CIE.
  5. A2: At the end revise AS too. A2 paper has AS part in it.
  6. In P1 chapter 6 and 10 and in P3 all theory chapters must be engulfed like children.
  7. AS: binary and algos; if appears covers more than 20% marks. A2: floating point, BNF, structures' algos, FDER cycle; if appear covers minimum 22% and maximum 50%.
  8. Remember its threshold system that never exceeds more than 67% and mostly your projects scored on better side, so leaving a 2 marks question is like giving up current grade and sliding into grade below. Grading has been improved lately by 10% below last June so earning Good grades is easier than ever.
  9. And now for last 12 hours:
  • Leave all studies and preps.
  • Have at least 8 hours sleep.
  • Pay attention to KEYTIME (ask school for it).
  • While leaving home grab a chewing gum/toffee and RedBull. Engulf RB right before you enter the centre so that by the time you start caffeine and tourine kicks in to enhance concentration and mood.
  • Go through paper as a whole once, put CG/toffee in and go through paper again. This finishes adrenaline rush and makes you ready for an outstanding, fast and best work piece ever created. Take good 10 minutes for this.
  • Attempt easy questions first and more technical after that.
  • Never mitch mitch cut any answer written but simply cancel, if require, with two lines over.
  • Never hesitate to put your own point of view.
  • Write short and to the point answers.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Earning good grades by employing different strategies and unlikely subject choices.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different result. When it comes to improving a subject result in A-Level, I think that statement is supremely relevant.
Most of us at one time or another will have a weak subject result that’s not responding as well as we’d like it to. So we ask ourselves what we need to do to make it good. While there is no simple, one-size-fits-all prescription for the dilemma, you can be sure of one thing: If what you’re doing isn't working, you need to do something different.
I’m often asked how often one should change method of studies, routines, time splits and so on. Rather than fire off some random span of time like six or eight times a week, I always say, “Change when whatever you’re doing fails to produce results.” In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Many students went from top in juniors to top in A-Level and hardly altered their studies regimen in more than 15 years. Why would they? They kept growing and improving, so it would have made no sense for them to switch things up much.
Many methods can be employed to check their efficacy for one including changing time splits, group study, individual one-on-one sessions with teachers & fellow students, study and practice alone, utilising different available subject resources, the internet and tuitions.
The difference ultimately shown between those who earned good to best results and those from failure to average is nothing but the total numbers of hours put in to earn the subject knowledge and their span over the sessions or months. By saying that what I mean is if a student have studied 80 hours during a session and earned a good grade, then it is unlikely for a student to procrastinate whole session and study 80 hours during last 10 days and expect a good result too. Its not the number of hours alone but also the amount of knowledge and grasp of concept that mind accepts at a given time. Concentration spans in general are short and work well when divide over many months and a little every sitting rather sitting in one go or for a week or few days.
Additionally students SHOULD NOT opt for unlikely subjects in their pursuit of A-Level due to the varying factors such as completing the number of subjects, to take more subjects, to avoid a particular subject during or before term and because they were pressurised to take a subject. These factors not just hamper results of unlikely subjects BUT ruin the progress of the liked subjects too.