Six-mark questions

Six-mark questions are often the questions that people find the most difficult. In all longer answer questions, but especially the six mark ones, it is important that you plan your answer and not just rush into it. After all, you would plan an essay or short story before starting. Without a plan it is easy to stray away from the key point and lose marks, get steps in a process in the wrong order or forget key bits of information. Remember to write your answer in full sentences, not bullet points.

Six-mark questions will start with command words such as 'Describe...' or 'Explain...'.

Some command words are easy to understand such as:

  • 'Calculate...' or 'Determine...' for maths questions
  • 'Choose...' for multiple choice questions
  • 'Complete...' to fill in a gap in a table or graph
  • 'Define...' to give the meaning of an important word
  • 'Suggest...' where you use your knowledge in an unfamiliar situation

The command words 'Describe...' and 'Explain...' can be confusing. If you are asked to describe a graph, you will be expected to write about its overall shape, whether it is linear or curved, the slope of gradients etc. If you are asked to explain why a pattern or trend is seen in a graph, you will be expected to use your science knowledge not just say what you see (which is a description), eg The graph shows the pH of milk decreases. It does this because...

Explain how and why questions often have the word ‘because’ in their answer. Describe questions don't.

The number of marks per question part is given in this form [6 marks]. It is essential that you give as many different points in your answer as possible (ideally six), linking these together.

These questions have been written by Bitesize consultants as suggestions to the types of questions that may appear in an exam paper.

Sample question 1 - Foundation

Question

Explain why a plant will wilt if not watered. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer. In your answer, it is important that you do not bullet point them, but link your ideas together:

  • water enters plant cells by osmosis
  • when a plant is well-watered, the cells are turgid
  • when a plant isn’t watered, it will lose water, as water will diffuse from the cells
  • as water concentration is now lower outside the cell
  • cells will lose their turgidity/become plasmolysed
  • the cell contents are no longer pushing against the cell wall – the cells will become flaccid and the plant will wilt

Sample question 2 - Foundation

Question

Describe the process of therapeutic cloning. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer. Remember that it is important that you do not bullet point them, but link your ideas together:

  • a body cell is removed from a patient and an egg cell is taken from a donor
  • the nucleus is removed from the (donor) egg cell and discarded
  • the nucleus is taken from the patient’s cell
  • the nucleus is transferred to the donor cell
  • the resulting embryo is stimulated to divide
  • the embryo is cultured for 4-5 days
  • stem cells can then be removed and cultured

Sample question 3 - Higher

Question

Discuss the arguments for and against stem cell research. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer.

  • research on stem cells could lead to therapies to treat conditions such as diabetes and paralysis
  • research could be used to increase our understanding of cell development/ differentiation
  • stem cells could be used to test new drugs
  • adult stem cells are rare in the human body and few in numbers
  • they do not differentiate in many different cell types, so can only be used to treat certain conditions
  • embryonic stem cells have the potential to differentiate into a greater number of cell types
  • the use of embryonic stem cells involves destruction of an embryo
  • people object to the use of embryos for stem cell research for ethical, social and religious reasons
  • stem cell therapy, so far, has had limited success
  • stem cell therapy may lead to viral infections

Sample question 4 - Higher

Question

Compare the structure of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer.

Note that questions with ‘Compare...’ in them will look for similarities as well as differences.

  • they are both bounded by a cell membrane
  • they both have ribosomes (though they are different sizes)
  • prokaryotic organisms have a cell wall. Cell walls are also found in the eukaryotic organisms, plants and fungi
  • prokaryotic organisms are much smaller in size than eukaryotic organisms
  • the genetic material of prokaryotic cells is a single loop of DNA that lies in the cytoplasm - in eukaryotic organisms, it is in the nucleus
  • prokaryotic cells have additional DNA - DNA in a ring called a plasmid (plasmids are very rarely found in eukaryotic organisms)