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So, you’re thinking about taking the Computing and Information Technology DSST exam? Awesome! Here’s what you need to know.

The 100-question 2-hour exam helps you receive college credits for learning acquired outside the traditional classroom. You’ll cover the basics, like hardware and software, before diving into more advanced topics, like networks and software development, and some non-technical stuff, like the social impact and history of computers.

Computing and Information Technology Study Guide

computing and info tech dsst

If you’ve previously studied Computing and Information Technology during high school or through extracurriculars, you’ll likely find this test pleasantly fast. If not, you can study through it in no time and be up and running. It’s probably one of the easiest Technology DSST exams but be careful not to underestimate it!

You will be allowed to use nonprogrammable calculators, and you will be provided with scratch paper. For computer-based exams, a calculator function will be available.

The exam will be divided into six major chunks:

  • (20%) Computer Organization and Hardware

    You use computers every day. Yet, do you know what they are made up of exactly? This is what you’ll find out about in this section. You’ll be introduced to the different physical parts of a computer, their respective functions and how they work with one another. You’ll want to understand the machine cycle, how the different types of memory work and what the different types of peripherals are. You’ll also learn about the various types of computers in terms of sizes and capabilities. In addition to the hardware aspect, you’ll need to know how computers handle data and how they represent it, along with the units used to measure the speed and amount of data. Fun fact: as compared to common usage where 1 kilo means a thousand, 1 kilo for computers means a thousand and twenty-four – this is because computers count in base 2 while we count in base 10.

  • (10%) Systems Software

    Without system software, the applications you use won’t be able to interact with the computer, and the computer won’t be able to manage its resources either. In this section, you’ll learn about the different types of system software: the importance and principal functions of the operating system, which is the master controller, and the utilities that help to monitor computer health and detect, diagnose and repair problems. You’ll also want to understand the different ways through which you can interact with a computer and the need for these. For instance, why would someone still use the command line interface today when there are modern, intuitive graphical user interfaces?

  • (20%) Application Software

    Without application software, you would not be able to do any task on the computer: write documents, play games, watch videos… In this section, you’ll learn about the different examples of application software and their uses, ranging from productivity tools to complex multimedia processing. Another important concept is that of databases: you’ll want to understand how data in databases is organized, the different ways (models) in which databases can be organized and how you can access data in different database models. You’ll also want to understand the different steps in the data mining process, including ways of analyzing the data, and ways in which you can use data mining to gain more insight from data. In addition to this, you need to know how software licensing affects the ways in you can use the software. Interesting fact: did you know that the United States is among the top countries using pirated or unlicensed software?

  • (20%) Data Communications and Networks

    Now, you’ll delve into some of the more advanced topics, nevertheless interesting. You’ll learn about what the World Wide Web is, how it works, how you can access it and what you can use it for. To understand how networks work, you’ll have to learn about the different sizes of networks; how networks can be structured; the various parts a network, including the different linking devices; and the different logical layouts (topologies) of a network. Of course, you also need to understand how communication operates within and among networks. For this, you’ll want to know about the different infrastructures available for both wired and wireless communication and the different communication protocols that exist. You should not disregard the importance of network security either: you’ll investigate the different tools, both in terms of software and hardware, that will help make your networks safe and secure. This is especially important because new cyber threats are created every day, and they spread mainly through networks.

  • (10%) Software Development

    Imagine that you must develop an application, but you don’t know exactly what it will have to do and how it will have to work; or that you are assigned to continue the development of an application that has been developed several years ago by long-departed programmers. This section is exactly about how to prevent being lost in such a situation. The software life cycle is important for you to know how an application works and its objectives. It also helps in developing high-quality applications and preventing loss of revenue. You’ll want to learn about the six phases of the software lifecycle and the steps involved in each of them. Learning how you can go about problem-solving using programming and learning about the different generations and types of programming languages will also be very important when you must develop software. You’ll want to have a look at the various tools that are available to help you develop software as well. Did you know that there are specialized career paths for each of the software life cycle phases?

  • (20%) Social Impact and History

    From when it started to today, IT has become such a huge part of society and everyday life, that we cannot ignore its history and particularly its impact. Knowing how things evolved since its invention can help you to better understand the intricacies of this modern tool and can even help to inspire you to make the next part of computing history. Also, with the ever-increasing amount of digital information, being aware of ethical, legal, social and safety/security issues involved allows you to be a more informed digital user. IT is changing the world of work as well, replacing old jobs with completely new ones. This section is less technical than the previous ones but, here, you’ll learn about the history of computing, issues pertaining to ethics, law, and society when it comes to the use of IT and how digital evil-doers operate and how you can keep your data and your identity safe and secure in the digital world. You’ll also learn about the different career paths available in IT and how you can use computers to advance your career in general. Did you know that IT jobs are among the highest-paying and most available jobs in the world?

Computing and Information Technology
Practice Quiz

Ready to give it a shot? Dive into the 10-question quiz below to get a feel for how prepared you are! Once you’ve written down your answers, hover over (or tap on a phone) the question to see the answers and explanations.

please do keep in mind that we can’t guarantee the accuracy of this quiz, so we do recommend you also run through a full-length practice exam. DSST and Pass Your Class both offer a good ones that we’ll share in the resources section below.

Question 1: What are the four steps, in order, of the machine cycle of the arithmetic logic unit?

a) Start, Process, End, Repeat
b) Input, Process, Store, Output
c) Fetch, Decode, Execute, Store
d) Fetch, Process, Store, Execute

ANSWER: c) Fetch, Decode, Execute, Store

This one is simple. Whenever the control unit receives an instruction, it carries out those four basic operations: it first fetches the instruction, then it decodes the instruction, after which it executes the instruction, and it finally stores the result.

Question 2: What is the unit of measurement for the processing speed of microcomputers?

a) Hz
b) bps
c) GB


Processor speed is expressed in Hz (Hertz). For older computers, MHz (megahertz) is used, while for new computers, which are faster, GHz (gigahertz) is used. 1 Hz is equal to 1 cycle (1 tick of the system clock).

BPS (bits per second) is used to express speed of data transmission; GB (gigabytes) is used to express storage space; and FLOPS (floating-point operations per second) is used to express the number of operations per second of supercomputers.

Question 3: Given a computer with only one processor, what process allows it to run several programs at the same time?

a) Multithreading
b) Multiprocessing
c) Multitasking
d) Multirunning

ANSWER: c) Multitasking

There are different ways in which an operating system can handle many processes. The most common one is multitasking: more than one task runs on one processor. Multithreading is when different parts of a program run: one thread waits for user input into a spreadsheet while another thread performs a calculation in the background. Multiprocessing is when the processor has several cores (independent processing units), or there are multiple processors, and they share the work among them. Make sure not to confuse those three terms. Multirunning is not an actual term.

Question 4: What is the interface system used on most consumer desktop or laptop computers?

a) Command-line interface
b) Menu-driven interface
c) Natural language interface
d) Graphical user interface

ANSWER: d) Graphical user interface

You usually access computers using a keyboard and mouse to select icons and menus from the desktop, and you navigate through folders and windows, etc., right? This is the graphical user interface. The command-line interface is where you type in text commands to give instructions to the computer. It is usually present in most operating systems but used mostly by experienced users and system administrators. A menu-driven interface allows you to navigate only using menus and sub-menus, such as on an automated teller machine; and a natural language interface allows you to speak to the computer to give instructions.

Question 5: Which model of database uses a key to connect data from different files?

a) Hierarchical database
b) Relational database
c) Object-oriented database
d) Network database

ANSWER: b) Relational database

Is this one tricky? You just need to grasp your database concepts well! To connect data from different files in a relational database, a common data element, called a key, is used. In hierarchical databases, records are organized as parents and children, with only links between the parent and its children. Network databases are similar, with the exception that children records can have more than one parent record. Object-oriented databases are a bit more advanced: they store data as objects instead of records in tables and are based on the concept of object-oriented programming.

Question 6: Which type of software has no copyright?

a) Commercial software
b) Freeware
c) Pirated software
d) Public-domain software

ANSWER: d) Public-domain software

This is an easy one. Public-domain software is the type of software that is not copyrighted because they have been donated to the public by their creators. You can use them however you want without fear of legal prosecution. The three others are copyrighted. However, commercial software is paid software while freeware is available for free; and, of course, pirated software is software that should have been paid for and was obtained illegally.

Question 7: In which type of network are computers connected directly to one another without the need for a central server?

a) Wide area network
b) Client-server network
c) Intranet
d) Peer-to-peer network

ANSWER: d) Peer-to-peer network

How do you differentiate among all those different types of networks? Their names contain hints. The term peer-to-peer means that things are shared among peers: all computers in the network have same capabilities, and there is no need for a central server to control the network. Client-server is the opposite: there is a centralized computer acting as a server, and individual computers share the services of that server. A wide area network is a network covering a wide geographic area, such as a country or even the world, and an intranet is a network that is internal to a company and thus private.

Question 8: Which device allows two different network types, e.g., a local area network and a wide area network, to communicate with each other?

a) Switch
b) Gateway
c) Router
d) Bridge

ANSWER: b) Gateway

Not sure if it’s a gateway or a bridge? To remember the difference between a gateway and a bridge, imagine the gateway as a portal between two worlds (thus two different types of networks) and the bridge as a bridge between two cities (thus two similar networks). As for the switch, it simply allows a computer to connect to a network, and a router simply directs messages among networks which are connected together.

Question 9: In the software development life cycle, which of the following has not yet been done by the stage of analysis?

a) Carrying out interviews
b) Defining the problem
c) Prototyping
d) Diagrams describing the data flow

ANSWER: c) Prototyping

Here is why you need to know the software development life cycle well. Prototyping is done at the design stage (which is after the analysis stage), where you build a limited working model of your system for quick testing and evaluation.

Question 10: What would you use encryption for?

a) To transmit data faster
b) To allow only authorized persons to view your data
c) To have a backup of your data
d) To filter unwanted data

ANSWER: b) To allow only authorized persons to view your data

Encryption makes your message secret: it transforms readable data into an unreadable form to prevent unauthorized access. To be able to read the data afterward, an encryption key, similar to a password, will be needed. Normally, only the person who performs the encryption, along with the authorized person(s), is in possession of that key.

Without proper security, there can be no privacy.

More DSST Study Resources

Are you at the beginning of your study process, or just looking for a couple more practice questions to finish prepping for your exam? In either case, you can find some of my favorite resources below. Some of the links below are affiliate (Amazon for instance), which means they’ll pay us a few bucks for every purchase through the link. Feel free to use those links if you want to support the site, but you can also just Google the title or pick the book up at your local library.

Official DSST Practice Test: Ok, so the DSST website isn’t the most inviting, but it will give you the best approximation of the real exam experience. Also, the official practice test is quite affordable (currently just $5 per practice exam).

Pass Your Class – DSST Computing and Information Tech: Textbooks are great as far as they go, but I’d generally recommend you opt for this exam guide instead. It tends to cut through the confusion and help you accelerate your learning process.

InstantCert Academy: Another website with a very dated design, but as ancient as it looks, this is actually an incredibly valuable resource. Basically, you get a massive set of flashcards that you can use to learn computing and to really solidify that knowledge so you’re ready for the exam.

Plenty of other resources exist – just do a quick internet search – but these are a fantastic start, and probably all you really need. I’ve personally done some exams with just InstantCert and the official practice test.

Congrats on starting your DSST study journey! Study hard, earn credit, and most of all remember to have fun.