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Business Management greatest exam hits

Jen Huang

The key to success in VCE Business Management is the ability to demonstrate strong knowledge of the theory, while also being able to apply the theory to case studies appropriately. That is why it can be extremely helpful to analyse high scoring responses to examine exactly how they both show and competently apply strong theoretical knowledge, all in the space of a few lines.

In this article, our Senior Business Management lecturer Lauren Savige walks you through two highly challenging, Study Design-compliant questions from past VCAA Business Management exams. Give the question a try first, before diving into her best tips, tricks and analyses of these questions and examples of high-scoring responses. 


VCAA 2015 Exam – Question 3 part b

The question

  • Question stem: Explain the relationship between productivity and business competitiveness.
  • Allocated marks: 2
  • Average mark: 0.9/2
Question analysis and tips
  • This question was asked as part of a longer question relating to a solar panel business. For ‘describe the relationship’ questions, you need to do more than simply define the two terms. Try to provide some sort of meaningful comment linking together the two ideas. As a general guide, for a two mark question you want to be writing at least two sentences (three sentences would be good!)
  • VCAA could ask a similar type of question testing students’ knowledge of any two other theoretical ideas. For example, a question could ask you to describe the relationship between productivity and business objectives, or operations management and competitiveness, or efficiency and the business objective ‘to make a profit’. Make sure you're ready to analyse these combinations of topics together.

The solution 

  • Description of marks
    • 1 mark would be awarded if you demonstrate an understanding of productivity and competitiveness in isolation
    • 2 marks would be awarded for demonstrating a clear understanding of the relationship between the two concepts
  • Suggested answer structure
    • Define productivity
    • Define competitiveness
    • Explain the relationship between the two ideas

VCAA high-scoring response

Productivity measures the amount of outputs (finished goods and services) that can be generated from a given amount of inputs (raw materials, labour, capital, time and money). An increase in productivity means that a business is able to generate a greater quantity of output for every unit of input, this effectively lowers costs for the business. 

When a business lowers its costs, it can translate these lower costs into lower prices. This allows the business to gain a competitive advantage regarding price, thus boosting the competitiveness of the organisation.


Further comments

This question is particularly important because it draws attention to the idea that an increase in productivity is effectively the same as reducing costs. This idea is important and relevant in all areas of management which seek to increase productivity (e.g. managing employees and operations management).
In addition, it draws our attention to the idea of ‘competitive advantage’. A business can either gain a competitive advantage regarding price (i.e. pricing a product cheaper than competitors) or quality (i.e. providing a higher quality product than competitors). This is made more obvious in Unit 4 when you study Porter’s Generic Strategies.

VCAA 2010 Exam – Question 5

The question

  • Question stem: Ethical and socially responsible management is an important part of an operations management system. Identify and describe two operations management strategies. Discuss the benefits to an organisation of adopting an ethical and socially responsible approach to management in these areas.
  • Allocated marks: 6
  • Average mark: 1.8/6
Question analysis and tips
  • To make tackling a long-answer question like this more manageable, try to break it down into logical parts first that you can answer independently. This question can be divided into several parts:
    • Identifying 2 operations strategies
    • Explaining 2 operations strategies
    • Discussing the possible benefits of being socially responsible in these areas
  • To write these longer responses faster, it's a good idea to have definitions memorised (e.g. the definition of rate of productivity growth). This means that you are able to spend less time recalling the definition of a term and more time focusing on the more challenging parts of the question - which, in this case, is the justification section.

The solution

  • Description of marks
    • 1 mark for a description of an operations strategy
    • 2 marks for explaining how corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be implemented/advantages of CSR in relation to this strategy
    • 1 mark for a description of an operations strategy
    • 2 marks for how CSR can be implemented/advantages of CSR in relation to this strategy
Suggested answer structure
  • Define corporate social responsibility
  • Identify one operations strategy (e.g. quality management)
  • Explain a specific strategy within this (e.g. Total Quality Management)
  • Explain how a business can be socially responsible in relation to this strategy
  • Identify benefits of CSR in relation to this strategy
  • Identify another operations strategy (e.g. materials management)
  • Explain a specific strategy within this (e.g. Just In Time)
  • Explain how a business can be socially responsible in relation to this strategy
  • Identify benefits of CSR in relation to this strategy
  • (Optional) brief conclusion

VCAA high-scoring response

Social responsibility refers to the business’ obligations, above and beyond what is legally required, to benefit employees, the environment and society as a whole.

One operations management strategy is the management of quality. This can involve quality control in the form of inspectors, quality assurance adopting the ISO 9000 standard and/or Total Quality Management (TQM). TQM is the most effective of these as it is an ongoing organisation-wide approach to maintaining quality. It involves three main aspects: continuous improvement, customer focus and employee empowerment. TQM is a continual and collective commitment to aspiring to achieve perfection.

Adopting an ethical and socially responsible approach can be beneficial for product quality. If employees are empowered, this improves their morale and they feel ethically respected. If customers’ needs are a top priority, and quality is of its highest possibility, then customers will be more likely to purchase the products as they appreciate their quality. If they have purchased products or received service or high quality this is being socially responsible as the interest of the customers is respected. This benefits the organisation as repeat sales are likely to be made.

A second strategy could be Materials management specifically Just in Time (JIT). This involves the sourcing of materials, stock and suppliers required to ensure that stock arrives just as required to be used on the production line. Organisations will benefit if they source their materials in an ethically and socially responsible manner. This involves purchasing from suppliers whom cause minimal damage to the environment, for example Linfox (a logistics company aiming to reduce their carbon emissions from travel as much as possible). Organisations should also source from ethical suppliers, for example obtaining fair trade coffee or chocolate.

By adopting this ethical and socially responsible approach, customers are more likely to purchase from the organisation as customers are increasingly becoming concerned for the environment and society. This benefits the organisation as they have more sales and thus greater profits. Employees also increasingly prefer to work at ethical and socially responsible organisations, therefore staff retention will be increased.


Further comments

  • Notice this question explicitly asks students to ‘discuss the benefits’. While ‘discuss’ often means advantages & disadvantages, in this question, only advantages are required.
  • This high scoring response is quite long. In Business Management, often longer responses with more detail score well. But it is equally important to ensure that every word as part of your response adds value to your answer. To achieve this, plan out your response (see the paragraph splits) into separate sections. By using signposting, this also helps the examiner follow along.
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