Linking questions

Linking questions span different topics. In linking questions, 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.

One way to answer linking questions is to follow these steps:

  1. identify exactly what the question is asking (perhaps by underlining key parts)
  2. identify what the link between the two parts of the question is
  3. make a short plan of these links (which will form the basis of your answer)
  4. include as much information as you can to obtain full marks (see below).

The number of marks per question part is given in this form '[4 marks]'. It is essential that you give four different answers if a question is worth four marks. Sometimes you can gain an additional mark by giving the units in a calculation or stating specific data points, eg after twenty-four hours the pH of the milk at room temperature had decreased by 1.2.

Linking 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

The command words 'describe' and 'explain' can be confused. 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 that the biodiversity is lower on the school field. This is because…

Explain how and why questions often have the word 'because' in their answer. Describe questions don't.

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

Sample question 1 – Foundation


Describe the similarities and differences between the role of hormones in the endocrine system and nerves in the nervous system. [6 marks]

  • Both hormones and electrical impulses in nerves send signals.
  • Electrical signals in nerves move quickly.
  • Hormones are released by glands.
  • Hormones move in the blood.
  • Hormones act upon a target organ.
  • Hormones control the menstrual cycle, homeostasis and puberty (three marks).
  • Electrical signals in nerves allow us to see, hear, feel, smell and taste.

Sample question 2 – Foundation


Describe how nerve cells are adapted for their function. [4 marks]

Four from:

  • They have a long axon which carries the electrical signal.
  • The axon is insulated by the myelin sheath.
  • Nerve cells have tiny branches called dendrons.
  • These branch further into dendrites.
  • Dendrites receive signals from other nerve cells.

Sample question 3 – Higher


Here is a picture of an angler fish.

An angler fish

Angler fish live at depths of over 1000 m. In clear water, sunlight does not usually reach more than 100 m deep. Many angler fish have a transparent 'lure' containing a high concentration of bioluminescent bacteria. Bioluminescent bacteria produce light. Suggest an advantage to the angler fish of having a lure containing bioluminescent bacteria. [2 marks]

Tip – you may never have heard of an angler fish, but use the information provided and your Biology knowledge to suggest reasonable ideas.

There must be correct pairs to gain two marks:

  • as it is dark at 1000 m, the bioluminescent bacteria will allow the angler fish to see and attract mates
  • it allows the fish to reproduce
  • it allows the angler fish to get food and attract its prey
  • the bioluminescent bacteria allows the angler fish to see other predators and avoid it being eaten

Sample question 4 – Higher

Read the information about the trialling of the first contraceptive pill.

The Pill was developed by a team of scientists led by Gregory Pincus. The team needed to carry out large scale trials on humans.

In the summer of 1955, Pincus visited the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Officials supported birth control as a form of population control. The women in Puerto Rico were mainly poor and uneducated.

The scientists selected a pill with a high dose of hormones. The Pill was found to be 100% effective when taken properly. But 17% of the women in the study complained of side effects.

The women in the trial had been told only that they were taking a drug that prevented pregnancy. They had not been told that the Pill was experimental or that there was a chance of dangerous side effects.


Evaluate the issues involved with methods used by Pincus in trialling the contraceptive pill. [6 marks]

  • large scale trial gave better results [1]
  • chose uneducated women so that if these women could use it correctly, women elsewhere would be able to [1]
  • uneducated women unlikely to give informed consent [1]
  • no placebo [1]
  • used pill with high dose of hormone / should have tried a range of doses / results not valid for other populations [1]
  • women not told pill was experimental / pill might have side effects / should have done pre-trial to check for side effects [1]