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 loose 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' 'evaluate' 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).

The examiner looks for a 'level of response' in six mark questions. If you list some simple statements without a logical structure you will be limited to a maximum of two marks. A better answer for four marks would demonstrate your understanding, but may miss some details. Only answers that have a logical sequence with relevant detail would achieve six marks.

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


Describe the method involved in testing a leaf for the presence of starch.

Each of the stages involved in the method should be described in sequence and the reason for carrying out each stage should be included.

Your description must include reference to the colour changes shown by the leaf and what these changes indicate. [6 mark]

  • Drop leaf in boiling water to kill the leaf
  • Boil the leaf in ethanol to remove the chlorophyll
  • Place the leaf in water to soften it
  • Spread the leaf on a white tile
  • Add iodine solution to the leaf surface to test for starch
  • If leaf turns blue-black/black starch is present

Sample question 2 - Foundation


The diagram shows the basic outline of the carbon cycle.

Diagram of the human body: central nervous system and peripheral nervous system

Use the diagram above and your own knowledge to explain in detail how carbon is cycled in nature. Start your account with carbon dioxide being taken up by green plants. [6 marks]

  • Carbon dioxide taken up by plants for photosynthesis and is converted into glucose.
  • Carbon used in manufacture of carbohydrates.
  • Plants eaten by animals and so carbon passes along the food chain.
  • Plants and animals respire and return carbon in glucose to carbon dioxide in air.
  • Plants and animals die. Decay organisms release carbon (dioxide) to air.
  • Reference to fossilisation due to lack of decay and subsequent combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon (dioxide).

Sample question 3 - Higher


Describe how nitrogen is recycled through the activity of soil bacteria and fungi to make it available to plants. In your description you should also refer to the factors that affect the activity of soil bacteria and fungi during the recycling process. [6 mark]

  • Bacteria and fungi are decomposers.
  • Decomposers decay dead organisms or waste.
  • Protein and urea are converted to ammonia.
  • Ammonia converted to nitrate.
  • Nitrate taken up by plant and used to make protein.
  • Factors that affect the activity should include oxygen, temperature, pH and heavy metals.