Six mark questions

Six mark questions are often the questions that people find the most difficult. In all longer answer questions, but especially the six mark ones, 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.

Six mark questions will start with command words such as 'describe' 'evaluate' 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 confusing. 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 the pH of milk decreases. It does this because…

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

The number of marks per question part is given in this form '[6 marks]'. It is essential that you give as many different points in your answer as possible (ideally six).

The examiner looks for a 'level of response' in six mark questions. If you list some simple statements without a logical structure you will be limited to a maximum of two marks. A better answer for four marks would demonstrate your understanding, but may miss some details. Only answers that have a logical sequence with relevant detail would achieve six marks.

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


The level of blood glucose must be kept within a very narrow range. It must not be allowed to rise too high or fall too low.

After a meal the blood glucose level begins to rise.

  • Pancreas
  • Secretes insulin
  • Travels in blood stream
  • To liver (its target organ)
  • Glucose is converted to insoluble glycogen
  • Glycogen stored in the liver
  • This lowers blood glucose

Sample question 2 - Foundation


John is a severely obese 27-year-old man. He weighs 31 stone and takes no exercise. For his height John should way about 14 stone.

A typical lunch for John would include:

  • 2 double cheeseburgers
  • 2 litre bottle of cola.

The table below shows the nutritional facts for one double cheeseburger and one litre of cola. It also shows the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) for an adult man.

GDADouble cheeseburger (220 g)Cola (per litre)
Energy (kcal)2500.01120.0400.0
Carbohydrate (g)300.047.0108.0
of which sugars (g)70.08.0108.0
Fat (g)95.0105.60.0
Protein (g)
Sodium - from salt (g)

Using the information and data above, and your own knowledge, describe the ways in which John's lifestyle and diet could lead to health problems. [6 mark]

Marks will only be given where health issues are linked to the excess in the diet.

  • Too much energy taken in at lunch – excess energy stored as fat leading to obesity.
  • Too much sugar taken in at lunch - this could possibly lead to diabetes (Type 2)/ obesity/tooth decay.
  • Too much fat taken in at lunch - possibly leading to obesity/ heart disease/circulatory disease.
  • Too much salt taken in at lunch - could lead to high blood pressure.
  • Reference to lack of exercise affecting circulation/heart.

In order to achieve full marks in this question the relationship between the food and the proportion of the GDA it accounts for must be mentioned. For example the GDA for fat has already been exceeded but for other foods such as salt any further meals taken during the day are likely to mean it will be exceeded.

Sample question 3 - Higher


Define a reflex action. Describe the reflex arc involved in the blinking response to a flashing light. (You will not be given any marks for diagrams.) [6 mark]

  • Rapid involuntary protective response (to a stimulus)
  • Light is the stimulus
  • Cells in the retina are receptors cells
  • Sensory neurone sends the impulse to the relay neurone
  • via a synapse
  • Impulse passes along the motor neurone
  • to the muscle of the eyelid which is the effector