Structured questions and short answer questions

Questions with one, two, three or four 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.

curriculum-key-fact
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.

This page contains AQA material which is reproduced by permission of AQA.

Sample question 1 - Foundation

Question

A student burned a hydrocarbon fuel and collected the products of combustion by placing a funnel over the burning fuel. Air was sucked through the funnel using a pump. The student saw that soot had collected inside the funnel. Explain why soot forms. [2 marks]

The following are valid points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

  • incomplete combustion had occurred [1]
  • because there was not enough oxygen [1]

Sample question 2 - Foundation

Question

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The graph below shows how the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has changed since 1850.

Graph of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1850

Give three conclusions that can be made from the graph. [3 marks]

The following are valid points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

  • carbon dioxide concentration stayed constant from 1850 to 1900 [1]
  • carbon dioxide concentration increased slowly from 1900 [1]
  • carbon dioxide concentration increased quickly from 1965 [1]

Sample question 3 - Higher

Question

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Describe the greenhouse effect. [4 marks]

The following are valid points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

  • short wavelength radiation [1]
  • passes through atmosphere to Earth's surface [1]
  • earth's surface radiates different wavelengths [1]
  • which are absorbed by greenhouse gases to produce a rise in temperature [1]

Sample question 4 - Higher

Question

The graph below shows the change in mean global air temperature from 1860 to 2000.

Air temperature since 1860

Explain how human activities have contributed to the main trend shown from 1910 in the graph. [3 marks]

The following are valid points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

General increase in temperature caused by increase in greenhouse gases. [1]

And then any two causes:

  • burning more fossil fuels releasing carbon dioxide
  • deforestation releasing carbon dioxide
  • increased cattle farming releasing methane
  • increased use of landfill releasing methane

[2]