Structured questions and short answer questions

Questions with 1, 2, 3 or 4 marks usually start with command words. If a question starts with the command word 'state', 'give', 'name' or 'write down', it needs a short answer only. This type of question can often be answered with one word or phrase.

It is important to state, give, name or write down the number of things that the question asks for. If you write down fewer, you cannot get all the marks. If you write down more, and one is wrong, you might lose a mark.

Some questions start with the command words 'describe', 'explain' or 'compare'. These are often worth two or more marks:

  • Describe means you should recall facts, events or processes accurately. You might need to give an account of what something looked like, or what happened.
  • Explain means you need to make something clear, or state the reasons for something happening. The points in the answer must be linked together. The answer must not be a list of reasons. All the points must be relevant to the question.
  • Compare means you need to describe similarities and differences between things. If you are asked to compare X and Y, write down something about X and something about Y and give a comparison. Do not just write about X only or Y only.

More complex structured questions will be worth three or four marks. They include questions with complex descriptions and explanations, and questions in which you need to compare things.

Three and four mark questions usually require longer answers than one and two mark questions.

Some of the answers are shown here as bullet points. This is to show clearly how a mark can be obtained. However, do not use bullet points in your answers - the points must be linked together logically.

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

Sample question 1 – Foundation

The image shows an atom of boron.

An atom of boron

a) When the mass of the boron atom is calculated, the mass of the electrons is ignored. Why is the mass of electrons ignored? [1 mark]

b) How many electrons are there in a boron atom? [1 mark]

a) Because the mass of an electron is very small [1].

b) 5 [1].

Sample question 2 – Foundation


The image shows a cell from a plant leaf.

An illustration of a plant cell

Which two parts shown in the image are not found in an animal cell? [2 marks]

Cell wall [1].

Chloroplast [1].

Sample question 3 – Higher


The image shows a simple model of the three states of matter.

Three boxes showing how particles are arranged in a solid, a liquid and a gas.

A student explains density to his teacher using the particle model shown in the image above.

His teacher says there are limitations to the model.

Give two limitations of the particle model shown in the image. [2 marks]

Any two from:

  • no forces shown between spheres [1]
  • atoms / molecules / ions are not solid spheres [1]
  • not all the same size [1]

Sample question 4 – Higher

Some students did an investigation to study the behaviour of waves.

The image shows a ripple tank that they used to model the behaviour of waves.

A plunger is used to generate wave fronts in shallow water

a) Complete the wave fronts.

Show how the wave is refracted as it passes from the shallow region into the deep region. [1 mark]

b) Explain what happens to the waves as they pass into the deep region. [2 marks]


The wave length becomes augmented and angled as the wave front enters the deep region

Lines should be further apart with the bottom of the wave fronts further to the right than the top [1].

b) They will speed up [1], so the wave fronts move further apart [1].