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

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 that the incidence of disease increases. 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).

These questions have been written by Bitesize consultants as suggestions to the types of questions that may appear in an exam paper.

Sample question 1 - Foundation

Question

Describe the flow of blood from when it arrives back to the heart from the body, to when it reaches the digestive system. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer. In your answer, it is important that you do not bullet point them, but link your ideas together.

Any six of these valid points would be appropriate:

  • blood arrives back to the heart in the two vena cavae
  • it enters the right atrium and when this is full, the atrium contracts and blood is forced into the right ventricle
  • a valve prevents the back flow of blood into the right atrium
  • the right atrium contracts, and blood enters the pulmonary arteries
  • valves prevent back flow into the right atrium
  • blood is oxygenated at the lungs and returns to the left atrium
  • it passes to the left ventricle, and to the aorta
  • blood is taken to the digestive system in a branch of the aorta

Sample question 2 - Foundation

Question

Explain how temperature affects how enzymes work. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could contribute to achieving six marks. In your answer, it is important that you do not bullet point them, but link your ideas together.

Valid points would include:

  • enzymes are proteins
  • they have a specific shape
  • for enzymes to work, the substrate fits into a region of the enzyme called the active site
  • the shape of the active site is specific to each substrate
  • as the temperature is increased, the number of (successful) collisions between the substrate and the enzyme increases, so the rate of reaction increases
  • above a certain temperature, the shape of the enzyme is changed - the enzyme is denatured
  • the substrate no longer fits into the active site, so the reaction slows, then stops
  • each enzyme has an optimum temperature at which it works best

Sample question 3 - Higher

Question

Explain the effects of smoking on the human body. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer. In your answer, it is important that you do not bullet point them, but link your ideas together.

Valid points would include:

  • person can develop chronic obstructive disease (COPD)/chronic bronchitis/emphysema
  • bronchioles and alveoli are damaged/destroyed
  • lungs become inflamed and mucus builds up
  • breathing is impaired, and the patient does not receive sufficient oxygen
  • lung cancer is another effect owing to chemical carcinogens in cigarette smoke
  • cells divide uncontrollably and invade other parts of the body, forming secondary tumours - lung cancer is usually fatal
  • in pregnant women, smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, reduced birthweight of the baby, and respiratory disease in the child/later life

Sample question 4 - Higher

Question

Describe and explain the effects of obesity on the body. [6 marks]

Note that this type of question might also arise as a 'linking ideas' type of question.

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer. In your answer, it is important that you do not bullet point them, but link your ideas together.

Valid points would include:

  • obesity is a condition where a person is very overweight, with an abnormal amount of excess body fat beneath the skin
  • obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease
  • obesity leads to high blood pressure and the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries
  • fatty deposits in the coronary arteries reduce the oxygen reaching the heart, causing a heart attack
  • build-up of fat/lipids in the abdomen increases blood pressure beyond normal levels along with increasing levels of blood lipids
  • obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • type 2 diabetes is where the body's cells lose their sensitivity to insulin - they no longer respond, or respond less effectively, to the insulin that's produced
  • fat intake and obesity increases the risk of certain cancers