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.

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


Describe how giraffes have evolved long necks. [6 marks]

  1. in every population, there is variation
  2. some giraffes had slightly longer necks
  3. some individuals have characteristics that give them an advantage
  4. the giraffes with longer necks could reach more leaves for food
  5. these organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce: survival of the fittest
  6. their offspring are more likely to inherit these adaptations through inheritance
  7. this process has been repeated over many generations
  8. now all giraffes have longer necks


Sample question 2 - Foundation


Describe how vertebrates are classified in the Linnaean system of classification. [6 marks]

Possible content to be included:

  • vertebrates are classified into five groups, each with different characteristics
  • mammals are warm-blooded, have hair or fur and breathe with lungs (or other suitable example)
  • reptiles are cold-blooded, have dry scales and lay leathery eggs (or other suitable example)
  • amphibians are cold-blooded, lay eggs and have soft permeable skin (or other suitable example)
  • birds are warm blooded, have feathers and a beak and many can fly (or other suitable example)
  • fish are cold-blooded, breathe through gills and lay many eggs (or other suitable example)

1-2 marks - Description demonstrates elements of understanding but some points are inaccurate. The description has some structure and coherence.

3-4 marks - Description demonstrates some understanding of the Linnaean system and most information is accurate. Limited links are made between classification of different organisms but the descriptions are mostly clear and logical.

5-6 marks - Detailed description demonstrates clear understanding of the classification system. Relevant links are made between ideas and the descriptions have a well-developed and logical structure.

Sample question 3 - Higher


Henderson Island in the Pacific Ocean is very small and has eight endangered species of birds. Rats live on the island and eat 95% of the birds' eggs. Scientists hope to kill all of the rats on the island by using a poison.

In Wales, a population of rats resistant to the poison were discovered in the 1960s.

Write an account to explain how this resistance developed and spread throughout Britain. Suggest why using poison as a method of control on Henderson Island might be more successful. [6 marks]

  1. a mutation in one or more genes caused variation in the rat population [1]
  2. one variety became resistant to poison [1]
  3. this was an advantage to the resistant individuals [1]
  4. due to natural selection/ survival of the fittest they were able to breed [1]
  5. this allowed the resistant gene to be passed on to the offspring of the surviving rats [1]
  6. success in Henderson Island will depend on the smaller population (small island) and killing all the rats initially [1]