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.

These questions have been written by a Bitesize consultant as a suggestion to the type of questions that may appear in an exam paper.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Waves carry energy. Describe how surface water waves and sound waves in air carry energy. Also what are the similarities and differences between them? [6 marks]

Surface water waves and sound waves both require a medium/substance to transmit through, for example, sound waves cannot travel through the vacuum of space [1]. One other common feature for both is that the medium, water or air, itself does not move in bulk with the wave [1]. Both carry kinetic energy from one point to another [1].

When either wave transmits through its medium, the particles simply vibrate as the wave passes through. This is where the difference lies [1]. The particles in the surface water wave vibrate perpendicularly (at 90°) to the direction of travel of the wave - this is a transverse wave [1]. The air particles vibrate backwards and forwards about a fixed point, in the same direction as the wave, for a sound wave transmitting through the medium - this is a longitudinal wave [1].

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

  • you must describe a common feature to both
  • you need to specify if they are longitudinal or transverse waves
  • you need to relate the wave motion in each one to particle motion

Sample question 2 - Foundation and Higher


Describe how ripples on the surface of water are examples of transverse waves whilst sound waves in air are longitudinal waves. [6 marks]

Answering tip:

  • Desribe the key features of transverse waves
  • Link ripples to that motion
  • Describe longitudinal waves
  • Link sound waves to that motion

Transverse waves have oscillations at 90° to the direction of wave travel (1)

In water the molecules move up and down (1)

Whereas the ripples travel across the surface horizontally (1)

Longitudinal waves have oscillations parallel to the direction of wave travel (1)

So in sound waves the air molecules move forwards and backwards (1)

While the sound travels forwards (1)