Short answer questions

Some short answer questions will be multiple choice questions. These will appear in both exam papers, and at both Tiers. Multiple choice questions are asked as questions, often starting with 'What is …' or 'Which of these …'.

You have four options to choose from in a multiple choice question. You must only choose one of these options, by writing your answer (A, B, C, or D) in a box.

It may help to reject any answers that you feel are obviously wrong, so that you can focus on choosing the right answer.

Other short answer questions will start with command words such as 'describe' or 'explain'. Some command words are easy to understand such as:

  • 'calculate' or 'determine' for maths 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 a steep linear increase for the first three hours 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 '[2 marks]'. It is essential that you give two different answers if a question is worth two marks. Sometimes you can gain a second mark by giving the units in a calculation or stating specific data points, eg 'The speed of the object decreased by 8m/s.'

Questions courtesy of Eduqas.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


The diagram shows the different regions of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum.

Electromagnetic spectrum, Radio waves at the top with long wavelength and gamma rays towards the bottom with shorter wavelengths. Two labels missing.

a) Identify regions 1 and 2 from the diagram above. [2 marks]

b) Choose the correct phrase in each bracket below. [3 marks]

i) Visible light travels [faster than / at the same speed as / slower than] radio waves.

ii) The frequency of visible light is [higher than / the same as / lower than] the frequency of X-rays.

iii) The wavelength of visible light is [longer than / the same as / shorter than] the wavelength of radio waves.

a) 1 - Microwaves [1], 2 - Ultraviolet rays [1]

b) i) at the same speed [1]

ii) lower than [1]

iii) shorter than [1]

Sample question 2 - Foundation and Higher


Helium-7 (72He) is unstable and emits electromagnetic radiation with a frequency of 7 × 1025 Hz.

Explain what is meant by “electromagnetic radiation with a frequency of 7 × 1025 Hz”. [2 marks]

Electromagnetic radiation is a transverse wave / radiation that travels at the speed of light [1]

Frequency is the number of waves produced by a source each second / 7 × 1025 waves produced by a source each second / 7 × 1025 waves per second / the number of waves per second [1]