Six-mark questions

Six-mark questions are extended open response questions. These require longer answers than the structured questions. It is wise to plan your answer rather than rushing straight into it, otherwise you may stray away from the key points.

Most questions on exam papers have mark schemes that give key points that are given marks. The six-mark questions are marked differently: they use a levels-based mark scheme. This type of mark scheme is used because these questions are more open-ended. To gain full marks, you need to:

  • support explanations using scientific knowledge and understanding
  • use appropriate scientific words and terms
  • write clearly and link ideas in a logical way
  • maintain a sustained line of reasoning, rather than getting lost or bogged down

Six-mark questions often use these command words:

  • Describe - you need to give an account but no reason
  • Explain - you must give reasons or explanations
  • Devise - you must plan or invent a procedure using your scientific knowledge and understanding
  • Evaluate - you must review information, including identifying strengths and weaknesses, and make a supported conclusion

Six-mark questions may be synoptic questions. These questions bring together ideas from two or more topics. For example, a question about fertilisers could include ideas about covalent substances, acids and alkalis, chemical calculations, and effects on the environment.

The answers shown here give marking points as bullet points. You do not usually need to include all of them to gain six marks, but you do need to write in full sentences, linking them logically and clearly.

Answers are placed in three marking bands:

  • 1-2 marks for answers showing limited content and reasoning and with significant omissions
  • 3-4 marks for answers that give some relevant points, with linking and reasoning and with fewer omissions
  • 5-6 marks for answers that link most of the relevant points, with good links and reasoning. They will have few, if any, omissions.

Sample question 1 - Higher


A life cycle assessment assesses the environmental impact of products such as smartphones. Some activities in the life cycle of a smartphone are listed below.

  • Extracting oil from oil wells
  • Making plastics from oil
  • Obtaining copper from copper ore
  • Putting together all the components
  • Packing the phone in a box
  • Watching videos on the phone
  • Taking apart the phone
  • Recycling the copper from some of the phone components

Describe the four stages that are assessed in a life cycle assessment.

In your answer, give at least one example from the list above for each stage. [6 marks]

This question has been written by a Bitesize consultant as a suggestion to the type of questions that may appear in an exam paper.

Your answer could include the following:

  • • First stage – extracting and processing raw materials…
    • • …for example extracting oil from oil wells
    • • …for example obtaining copper from copper ore
    • • …for example making plastics from oil
  • • Second stage – manufacturing and packaging
    • • …for example putting together all the components
    • • …packing the phone in a box
  • • Third stage – using the product
    • • …for example watching videos on the phone
  • • Four stage – disposal at the end of its useful life
    • • …for example taking apart the phone
    • • …recycling the copper from some of the phone components