Open response questions

Extended open response questions require longer answers than structured questions that have fewer marks. Open response questions are usually worth six marks, but some are worth fewer marks.

It is wise to plan your answer first by making some notes. This will help you to include all the key points.

To gain full marks, you need to:

  • support explanations using scientific knowledge and understanding
  • use appropriate scientific words
  • write clearly and link ideas in a logical way
  • maintain a sustained line of reasoning

Open response questions often use these command words:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Evaluate means you must use information supplied, or your own knowledge, to consider the evidence for and against or to identify strengths and weaknesses. You must then complete your answer with a conclusion, stating which is better and why, for example.

Open response questions may be synoptic questions, which bring together ideas from two or more topics. For example, a question about fertilisers could include ideas about covalent substances, acids and alkalis, chemical calculations and effects on the environment.

The answers shown here give marking points as bullet points. You do not usually need to include all of them to gain full marks, but you do need to write in sentences, linking them logically and clearly.

Question 1 – Foundation


Diffusion is an important process in animals and plants.

The movement of many substances into and out of cells occurs by diffusion.

Describe why diffusion is important to animals and plants. [6 marks]

In your answer you should refer to:

  • animals
  • plants
  • examples of the diffusion of named substances

Indicative content

Importance of diffusion

  • To take in substances for cell processes.
  • Products from cell processes removed.

Examples of processes and substances

  • For gas exchange / respiration / oxygen in / carbon dioxide out.
  • For gas exchange / photosynthesis / carbon dioxide in / oxygen out.
  • Food molecules absorbed – glucose, amino acids etc.
  • Water absorption in the large intestine.
  • Water lost from leaves / transpiration.
  • Water absorption by roots.
  • Mineral ions absorbed by roots.

Question 2 – Higher


A student investigated the specific heat capacity of metals.

Describe an experiment the student could do to measure the specific heat capacity of a metal. [6 marks]

Indicative content

  • Measure the mass of metal.
  • Use the correct balance.
  • Description of how work is done or energy transferred to metal, eg electrical work, mechanical work (eg dropping lead shot).
  • How energy transfer or work done is measured, eg electrical using joulemeter, mechanical decrease in potential energy store of falling lead shot.
  • Equate work done/energy transferred = increase in thermal energy store of the metal.
  • Calculate specific heat capacity.