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.

Edexcel questions courtesy of Pearson Education Ltd.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Competition between organisms is an important driver for evolution. Describe the similarities and difference in the factors that animals and plants complete for. [4 marks]

  1. animals and plants both compete for space [1]
  2. this is called territory for animals [1]
  3. as well as this, animals compete for food and mates [1]
  4. additionally, plants compete for light and water and minerals from the soil [1]

Sample question 2 - Higher


Describe the method you would use determine if there are more species of plant on the school field rather than on woodland. [6 marks]

  1. choose a starting point on the school field and use random numbers to generate a set of coordinates to place your first quadrat
  2. count the number of different plant species within this quadrat (the species richness)
  3. return to your starting position and repeat steps two and three a further 14 times using different random numbers
  4. repeat steps one to four for a woodland
  5. compare your results by calculating a mean for each location