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 include as many different points in your answer as possible. However, it is not simply the case that listing six different points will always gain six marks in a six mark question as the way that you structure your answer will also be considered.

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


Describe the structure and function of the nerves in the nervous system. [6 marks]

Possible content to be included (additional content must be scientifically correct and relevant):

  • the central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord
  • the peripheral nervous system is a network of nerves that cover the rest of the body
  • receptor cells in sense organs start electrical signals which travel along sensory neurones to the central nervous system (two marks)
  • relay neurones carry electrical signals around the central nervous system
  • motor neurones carry electrical signals away from the central nervous system to effectors which are muscles or glands (two marks)
  • gaps between neurones are called synapses
  • all neurones have extended projects called axons along which electrical signals travel
  • axons are insulated by myelin sheaths to speed up the electrical signals

1-2 marks - Descriptions of some features of the nervous system are made but these are sometimes inaccurate and are not always linked to function.

3-4 marks - Descriptions of several features of the nervous system, generally linked to function with some detail given. Descriptions are mostly logical and clear.

5-6 marks - Detailed description of a range of features, linked with function and links made between features. Descriptions are well presented with a clear, logical sequence.

Sample question 2 - Foundation


Describe the structure of DNA in a eukaryotic cell. [6 marks]

Possible content to be included (additional content must be scientifically correct and relevant):

  • DNA is made of four base pairs
  • A-T, T-A, C-G, G-C
  • bases are joined together by weak hydrogen bonds
  • DNA is coiled into a double helix shape
  • a section of DNA that codes for a protein is called a gene
  • genes come in pairs called alleles
  • chromosomes are long lengths of DNA which contain many genes
  • an organism's entire DNA is called a genome

1-2 marks - Description of a small number of distinct features but with some inaccuracies. Limited links are made between the features.

3-4 marks - Description of several features of DNA with limited links made. Descriptions are mostly logical and clear and demonstrate some understanding of structure related to function.

5-6 marks - Detailed description of many features of DNA with links made between structures to demonstrate understanding of structure related to function. Descriptions are well developed and are logical.

Sample question 3 - Higher


Describe the steps in mitosis. Give their names in your answer. [6 marks]

Possible content to be included (additional content must be scientifically correct and relevant):

  • interphase - the DNA in chromosomes copies itself ready for mitosis
  • prophase - the membrane around the nucleus disappears
  • metaphase - chromosomes and their copies line up in the middle of the cell
  • anaphase - chromosomes and their copies are pulled to different ends of the cell
  • telophase - new membranes form around the chromosomes at each end of the cell
  • cytokinesis - the cell membrane pinches in and eventually divides into two daughter cells

1-2 marks - Most stages are named with limited descriptions but with some inaccuracies. Descriptions are mostly distinct, with some attempt at a logical sequence.

3-4 marks - Stages are named and most described accurately to demonstrate some understanding. Descriptions are mostly given in a logical sequence.

5-6 marks - All stages named and described accurately and in detail, demonstrating clear understanding. Links are made between the stages and descriptions are well developed with a clear, logical sequence.