Free-response questions

Free-response questions will appear throughout both exam papers (Breadth and Depth) and at both Foundation Tier and Higher Tier.

These questions provide answer lines for you to write your answer and may sometimes also provide a blank space for you to draw a diagram or show your working out.

The number of answer lines and the number of marks for the question are guides to the amount of detail to include in your answer. A question worth one mark with only one answer line probably only requires a one sentence answer, or perhaps just a single word or phrase. For questions with more marks and more answer lines you will have to go into more detail or give specific data points, eg:

  • the speed of the object decreased [1 mark]
  • the speed of the object decreased by 8 m/s [2 marks]

Free-response questions often start with a command word such as 'describe' or 'explain'. It’s important to understand the different types of answers required by 'describe' and 'explain'. As a rule of thumb:

  • describe what happens, when and where
  • explain how and why it happens ('It happens because…')

Other command words you might see include:

  • ‘write down’ (give a short answer, without explaining it)
  • 'suggest' (use your scientific knowledge and understanding to give a sensible answer in an unfamiliar context)
  • 'compare' (write about the similarities and differences between two things)
  • 'discuss' (write about the issues related to a topic, and talk about arguments for and against)

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Write down the difference between a renewable and a non-renewable energy resource. [1 mark]

OCR 21st Century Science, GCE Physics, Paper J259, 2016.

A renewable energy resource will not run out and non-renewable energy resource will. [1]

When answering the question it is important to answer in a concise way. There is not much space to answer so don't write more than necessary. Be careful not to simply repeat the stem of the question by stating that a renewable resource can be renewed but a non-renewable resource can't.

Sample question 2 - Foundation


A household heats water with an electric heater.

The water is then stored in a large storage tank until it is needed.

If the water is not used for some hours, it will cool down and the electric heater must be put on again.

Suggest and explain one way in which the householder can reduce the energy wasted in this way, and so save money on the electricity bills. [2 marks]

OCR 21st Century Science, GCE Physics, Paper J259, 2016.

Insulate the tank [1], so that less heat is lost through conduction over time [1].

The are two steps involved in answering a question like this. Step one - state the method you will use to reduce heat loss. Step two - explain how heat loss will be reduced.

Sample question 3 - Higher


a) Name an energy resource which does not need a furnace or boiler, as it can drive the turbine directly when generating electricity. [1 mark]

b) Write down one advantage and one disadvantage this method of generating electricity has over a coal burning power station. [2 marks]

OCR 21st Century Science, GCE Physics, Paper J259, 2016 - Higher.

a) Wind/tidal/wave/hydroelectric [1]

For the part a), there are quite a few correct answers. As long as the answer turns the turbine without the need to heat water first, your answer will be correct.

(b) One advantage would be that it is a renewable energy resource so it will not run out [1]. A disadvantage is that by building it, habitats will be destroyed [1].

To answer this question, start by suggesting any suitable advantages, eg no greenhouse gases/renewable etc.

Next, you need to state any relevant disadvantage, eg damage to habitat.