Six mark questions

Six mark questions are extended open response questions. These require longer answers than the structured questions that have fewer marks. It is wise to plan your answer first by making some notes. This will help you to include all the key points.

To gain full marks, you need to:

  • support explanations using scientific knowledge and understanding
  • use appropriate scientific words
  • write clearly and link ideas in a logical way
  • maintain a sustained line of reasoning

Six mark questions often use these command words:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Evaluate means you must use information supplied, or your own knowledge, to consider the evidence for and against or to identify strengths and weaknesses. You must then complete your answer with a conclusion, stating which is better and why, for example.

Six mark questions may be synoptic questions, which bring together ideas from two or more topics. For example, a question about fertilisers could include ideas about covalent substances, acids and alkalis, chemical calculations, and effects on the environment.

The answers shown here give marking points as bullet points. You do not usually need to include all of them to gain six marks, but you do need to write in sentences, linking them logically and clearly.

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

Question

The Earth's early atmosphere contained high levels of carbon dioxide and little or no oxygen. There may also have been some methane and ammonia. There was also a lot of steam. Today, the atmosphere is very different. Describe how the composition of the atmosphere has changed in the 3.6 billion years since the Earth was formed. [6 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.

  • the amount of carbon dioxide has decreased...
  • ...and now makes up less than 1% of the atmosphere
  • the amount of oxygen has increased...
  • ...and now makes up approximately 20% of the atmosphere...
  • nitrogen has increased...
  • ...and now makes up approximately 80% of the atmosphere
  • there is now much less water vapour...
  • ...and hardly any methane and ammonia

[6]

Sample question 2 - Foundation

Question

The vast majority of scientists believe that human activities are causing global warming. Describe some of the human activities which release greenhouse gases. Suggest changes that humans could make to reduce global warming. [6 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.

  • burning fossil fuels in power stations to generate electricity...
  • ...so generate electricity using renewable energy resources instead, eg solar PV panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric, etc
  • burning fossil fuels in cars and other vehicles...
  • ...so use renewable energy sources for transport instead, eg biofuels, or sustainably generated hydrogen or electricity
  • deforestation...
  • ...so prevent deforestation by buying sustainably farmed food and fuels
  • intensive cattle farming...
  • ...so eat less meat and consider a vegetarian diet
  • increasing global population...
  • ...so make efforts to reduce the rate of population growth

[6]

Sample question 3 - Higher

Question

Scientists believe that the Earth's early atmosphere contained high amounts of carbon dioxide and steam. They also think that the early atmosphere contained some methane and ammonia, but no oxygen.

Why can scientists not be certain about the composition of the early atmosphere, and what evidence might they use for drawing conclusions?

Explain the changes that have occurred to the composition of the atmosphere since it was formed. [6 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.

Your answer can include any of the following:

  • indirect evidence may include the composition of rocks that are almost as old as the Earth, and also the fossilised remains of living organisms that were alive at different times since then
  • carbon dioxide decreased due to dissolving in the oceans, being trapped in carbonate rocks and being absorbed by photosynthesis
  • oxygen increased due to photosynthesis
  • nitrogen was released by volcanoes
  • steam condensed to form the oceans

[6]

Sample question 4 - Higher

Question

Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate carbon are all atmospheric pollutants. Describe the causes and effects of these pollutants. [6 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.

  • sulfur dioxide is produced by the combustion of sulfur impurities in fossil fuels...
  • ...and dissolve in rain water to form acid rain
  • nitrogen oxides are produced inside car engines...
  • ...by the reaction of nitrogen from the air...
  • ...with oxygen...
  • ...and causes both acid rain, smog and breathing difficulties.
  • particulate carbon is produced by the incomplete combustion...
  • ...of hydrocarbon fuels in insufficient oxygen...
  • ...and causes global dimming and breathing difficulties

[6]