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’ 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
  • 'evaluate' where you use the information supplied as well as your knowledge and understanding to consider evidence for and against

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.

The number of marks per question part is given in this form '[6 marks]'. It is essential that you give as many different points in your answer as possible (ideally six).

This page contains AQA material which is reproduced by permission of AQA.

Sample question 1 – Foundation


Describe the structure and function of the nerves in the nervous system. [6 marks]

Six from:

  • The central nervous system is made from the brain and spinal cord.
  • The peripheral nervous system is a network of nerves that cover the rest of the body.
  • Receptor cells in sense organs start electrical signals which travel along sensory neurones to the central nervous system (two marks).
  • Relay neurones carry electrical signals around the central nervous system.
  • Motor neurones carry electrical signals away from the central nervous system to effectors which are muscles or glands (two marks).
  • Gaps between neurones are called synapses.
  • All neurones have extended projects called axons along which electrical signals travel.
  • Axons are insulated by myelin sheaths to speed up the electrical signals.

Sample question 2 – Foundation


Describe what happens at a synapse. [6 marks]

Six from:

  • Where two neurones meet there is a small gap, a synapse.
  • An electrical impulse travels along the first axon.
  • This triggers the nerve-ending of a neurone to release chemical messengers called neurotransmitters into the synapse.
  • These chemicals diffuse across the synapse (the gap) and bind with receptor molecules on the membrane of the second neurone.
  • The receptor molecules on the second neurone bind only to the specific neurotransmitters released from the first neurone.
  • This stimulates the second neurone to transmit the electrical impulse.

Sample question 3 – Higher


The diagram shows a bee flying towards a man's eye.

This Diagram shows a bee flying towards a man’s eye.

In the blink reflex, light from the bee reaches the light-sensitive cell in the eye. The muscles in the eyelid shut the man's eye before the bee hits the eye. Describe the pathway taken by the nerve impulse in the blink reflex. Explain why we have this reflex. [6 marks]

Tip – consider the pathway as a simple flow diagram to help you include all the relevant parts.

During this response, the 'nerve cell' will be accepted instead of a neurone.

Examples of the points made in the response should include some of the ideas listed below:

  • light from the bee enters the eye/hits the retina [1]
  • (electrical) impulses go from light-sensitive cells to the sensory neurone/optic nerve [1]
  • the sensory neurone/optic nerve connects to the brain or CNS (central nervous system) [1]
  • the brain or CNS (relay neurone or spinal cord is accepted) connects to the motor neurone [1]
  • the motor neurone connects to the eyelid muscle [1]
  • the eyelid muscle makes the eye blink [1]
  • the main reason for this blink reflex is the protection of the eye [1]

Sample question 4 – Higher


A person accidentally touches a hot pan.

Her hand automatically moves away from the pan.

The diagram shows the structures involved in this action.

The diagram shows the structures involved when someone touches a hot pan.

Describe fully how the structures shown in the diagram bring about this reflex action. [6 marks]

Examples of the points made in the response should include some of the ideas listed below:

  • stimulus / heat detected by temperature receptors in skin [1]
  • impulses travel along sensory neurone to spinal cord / CNS [1]
  • chemical transmission across synapse [1]
  • via relay neurone [1]
  • impulses to muscle / effector via motor neurone [1]
  • muscle / effector contracts, moving the hand away [1]