Linking questions

Linking questions span different topics. In linking questions, 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.

One way to answer linking questions is to follow these steps:

  1. Identify exactly what the question is asking (perhaps by underlining key parts)
  2. Identify what the link between the two parts of the question is
  3. Make a short plan of these links (which will form the basis of your answer)
  4. Include as much information as you can to obtain full marks (see below).

The number of marks per question part is given in this form '[4 marks]'. It is essential that you give four different answers if a question is worth four marks. Sometimes you can gain an additional mark by giving the units in a calculation or stating specific data points, eg after twenty-four hours the pH of the milk at room temperature had decreased by 1.2.

Linking 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 confused. 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 that the biodiversity is lower on the school field. This is because…

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

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


Explain how plants meet the challenges of growing in hot, dry climates. [6 marks]

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

  • Plants open stomata to let in the carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis.
  • Water diffuses out, a process called transpiration.
  • In hot, dry climates, the rate of transpiration will be higher.
  • These plants have adaptations to reduce water loss.
  • Leaves are reduced in size and may be reduced to spines.
  • Stomata may be sunken in pits, surrounded by hairs or in furrows in the stem.
  • Water will be lost over the plants' surface and the shape of the plant, eg globular, reduces the surface area to volume ratio and therefore the amount of water lost.

This question combines ideas about photosynthesis, diffusion, transpiration and surface area to volume ratios.

Sample question 2 - Foundation

Maggots are the larvae (young) of flies.

Read the following information:

  • In the First World War, many soldiers died from infection of their wounds by bacteria.
  • Sometimes, maggots would hatch in the wounds from eggs laid by flies.
  • An army doctor called William Baer observed that soldiers whose wounds had maggots were more likely to survive than soldiers who did not have maggots.
  • The maggots seemed to clean the wound.
  • He reasoned that maggots ate bacteria and dead flesh around the wound.
  • Baer published his ideas in 1931. Since then, using maggots to treat wounds has become common.

Based on this information:

(i) What was Baer's observation? [1 mark]

(ii) What was Baer's hypothesis? [1 mark]

(iii) Suggest why it was important for Baer to publish his ideas. [1 mark]

(i) Soldiers whose wounds had maggots were more likely to survive (than soldiers who did not have maggots). In this answer it is essential that a comparison is made between the soldiers.

(ii) Maggots ate bacteria and dead flesh around the wound, they are decomposers.

(iii) It is important that scientists publish their work so that it can be checked by others. This normally involves repeating the work. This ensures reproducibility.


Suggest one reason (apart from cost) why using maggots to treat wounds may be prefereable to using antibiotics. [1 mark]

One of:

  • Fewer side effects
  • Bacterial resistance
  • Maggots are more widely available than antibiotics

Sample question 3 - Higher


The spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is an indicator species in the USA. It feeds on squirrels, birds, bats and large insects.

Explain how the spotted owl could be used as an indicator species. [2 marks]

The number of spotted owls will fall if the numbers of prey fall [1]

This indicates that there is something wrong with the environment [1]

Sample question 4 - Higher


Deforestation is the cutting down of trees. The water cycle shows the different processes water undergoes.

Explain how deforestation can affect the water cycle. [6 marks]

Remember to include as many processes from the water cycle in your answer.

  • Deforestation does not directly affect the volume of water that evaporates from ponds, lakes and oceans.
  • It does, however, reduce the volume of water that evaporates from plants during transpiration.
  • Transport of water in clouds is not affected.
  • But if water precipitates from clouds as rain or snow onto deforested areas, less will be absorbed by plant roots and more will runoff the surface.
  • This can cause floods and landslides.
  • At this point no more water can infiltrate the ground.