Structured and short answer questions

Questions with 1, 2, 3 or 4 marks usually start with command words. If a question starts with the command word 'state', 'give', 'name' or 'write down', it needs a short answer only. This type of question can often be answered with one word or phrase.

It is important to state, give, name or write down the number of things that the question asks for. If you write down fewer, you cannot get all the marks. If you write down more, and one is wrong, you might lose a mark.

Some questions start with the command words 'describe', 'explain' or 'compare'. These are often worth two or more marks:

  • Describe means you should recall facts, events or processes accurately. You might need to give an account of what something looked like, or what happened.
  • Explain means you need to make something clear, or state the reasons for something happening. The points in the answer must be linked together. The answer must not be a list of reasons. All the points must be relevant to the question.
  • Compare means you need to describe similarities and differences between things. If you are asked to compare X and Y, write down something about X and something about Y, and give a comparison. Do not just write about X only or Y only.

More complex structured questions will be worth three or four marks. They include questions with complex descriptions and explanations, and questions in which you need to compare things.

Three and four-mark questions usually require longer answers than one and two-mark questions.

Some of the answers are shown here as bullet points. This is to show clearly how a mark can be obtained. However, do not use bullet points in your answers - the points must be linked together logically.

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


Give one reason to explain why diamond is used in dentists' drills. [1 mark]

Diamond is very hard. [1]

Sample question 2 - Foundation


Figure 1 shows the structure of an alloy.

Figure 1

The structure of two metals in an alloy.

Explain why this alloy is harder than the pure metal Y. [2 marks]

  • The atoms are different sizes. [1]
  • Therefore there are no layers to slide over each other. [1]

Sample question 3 - Higher


Explain how a covalent bond holds two atoms together. [2 marks]

There is an electrostatic force of attraction between a shared pair of negatively charged electrons [1] and two positively charged nuclei. [1]

Sample question 4 - Higher


Explain, in terms of its structure, why graphite can be used as a lubricant. [3 marks]

The carbon atoms in graphite are arranged in layers. [1]

There are only weak intermolecular forces between the layers. [1]

The layers can slide over each other. [1]