Six mark questions

Six mark questions are extended open response questions. These require longer answers than the structured questions with fewer marks. It is wise to plan your answer rather than rushing straight into it, otherwise you may stray away from the key points.

Six mark questions are marked using a levels-based mark scheme because they are open ended. To gain full marks, you need to:

  • support explanations using scientific knowledge and understanding
  • use appropriate scientific words and terms
  • write clearly, linking ideas in a logical way
  • maintain a sustained line of reasoning, rather than getting lost or bogged down

You are likely to see command words such as:

  • 'describe' - you need to give an account but no reason
  • 'explain' - you must give reasons or explanations
  • 'devise' - you must plan or invent a procedure using your scientific knowledge and understanding
  • 'evaluate' - you must review information, including identifying strengths and weaknesses, and make a supported conclusion

Six mark questions may be synoptic questions. These questions bring together ideas from two or more topics. For example, a question about atoms could include ideas about atomic structure, isotopes, radiation and nuclear reactions. Remember that the topics covered in the first paper are assumed knowledge for the second paper, so questions in the second paper may need knowledge and understanding of those topics too.

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 full sentences, linking them logically and clearly.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Describe and explain the observations for the light ray shown in the drawing as fully as you can. What would you see if the ray of light entered the block at an angle of 90°? [6 marks]

The light ray as it enters the block, is refracted slightly, and then leaves the block. The smallest angles between the light ray and the block as the ray enters and leaves are the same size.

Question courtesy of Eduqas.

When the ray enters the block it is refracted towards the normal as it passes into the glass [1]. This happens because light travels slower in glass than in air or the light is travelling into an optically more dense medium [1]. When the light leaves the block and goes back into the air it now bends away from the normal as it speeds up or it is travelling into an optically less dense medium [1]. The emerging ray is parallel to the incident ray [1]. If the light entered the block at an angle of 90° then there would be no refraction [1] as it would pass straight through the block in a straight line, but the light would slow down in the glass [1].

Answering tip: Briefly plan the key points you want to include in your answer. For example:

  • describe what happens to the light ray at each surface
  • explain why the light ray follows the path shown in the diagram
  • explain what happens if the incident ray is perpendicular