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' 'evaluate' 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 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).

The examiner looks for a 'level of response' in six mark questions. If you list some simple statements without a logical structure you will be limited to a maximum of two marks. A better answer for four marks would demonstrate your understanding, but may miss some details. Only answers that have a logical sequence with relevant detail would achieve six marks.

Edexcel questions courtesy of Pearson Education Ltd.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Describe how the circulatory system transports substances around the body. [6 marks]

  • the heart/ventricle pumps blood
  • blood passes through blood vessels/arteries/veins/capillaries
  • the blood travels to the lungs and then to the rest of the body
  • arteries transport blood away from the heart
  • veins transport blood to the heart
  • valves prevent backflow
  • capillaries exchange materials with tissues/cells
  • red blood cells carry oxygen
  • plasma transports nutrients/waste/hormones


Sample question 2 - Higher


A reduced cardiac output would affect the performance of an athlete.

Explain the effects that a reduced cardiac output would have on the muscle cells of an athlete. [6 marks]

  • there will less blood flow (to the muscles)
  • less blood leaves the heart
  • less oxygen reaches muscle
  • less glucose reaches muscle
  • reduced rate of aerobic respiration
  • less energy released
  • less carbon dioxide removed
  • greater rate of anaerobic respiration
  • glucose broken down without oxygen
  • reduced muscle contraction
  • build up of lactic acid in muscle cells
  • lactic acid causes cramp/fatigue