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.

Edexcel questions courtesy of Pearson Education Ltd.

Sample question 1 - Foundation

Question

Describe how sampling techniques can be used to investigate the distribution of plants and insects in a field. [6 marks]

A description to include some of the following points.

Equipment

  • use a pooter
  • use of pitfall traps
  • use of sweep nets
  • use of quadrats

Description of method

  • pooter to suck up insects without damaging them
  • pitfall trap buried to trap walking insects
  • sweep nets to collect flying insects/in long grass
  • quadrat used to sample plants/insects
  • count plants/quantify numbers of insects

Process

  • sampling occurs randomly
  • sampling occurs several times
  • sampling occurs in different locations
  • calculate an average
  • multiply average by area of a field/scale up