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


Describe the role of mutations in evolution. [4 marks]

Any four from:

  • a mutation is a change to a gene or chromosome
  • it can have an advantage, disadvantage or no effect
  • advantageous mutations make individual organisms better adapted
  • they are therefore more likely to survive (survival of the fittest)
  • they are more likely to reproduce
  • their offspring are more likely to have this advantage


Sample question 2 - Higher


Compare the processes of selective breeding and evolution. Give examples in your answer. [6 marks]

Six from:

Selective breeding:

  • decide which characteristics are important enough to select
  • choose parents that show these characteristics from a mixed population. They are bred together
  • choose the best offspring with the desired characteristics to produce the next generation. Repeat the process continuously over many generations, until all offspring show the desired characteristics
  • examples of animals: pigs, sheep, cows, dogs or other suitable example (one mark)
  • examples of plants: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower (one mark)


  • individual organisms within a particular species show a wide range of variation for a characteristic
  • individuals with characteristics most suited to the environment are more likely to survive to breed successfully
  • the characteristics that have enabled these individuals to survive are then passed on to the next generation


Sample question 3 - Higher


Describe how mutations in DNA are caused and explain their possible effects. [5 marks]

Answer could include:

  • mutations are changes in the DNA sequence of an organism
  • they can be insertion, deletion, substitution or inversion of base pairs
  • this can be advantageous, disadvantageous , or have no effect
  • mutations are caused at random, or by ionising radiation and mutagenic chemicals (carcinogens)
  • rapid cell growth of mutated cells can form cancerous tumours
  • benign tumours grow slowly, are easily removed and do not invade other parts of the body
  • malignant tumours grow rapidly, are more difficult to remove and do invade other parts of the body