Linking questions

Linking questions span different topics. In linking questions, 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 lose 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.

One way to answer linking questions is to follow these steps:

  1. identify exactly what the question is asking (perhaps by underlining key parts)
  2. identify what the link between the two parts of the question is
  3. make a short plan of these links (which will form the basis of your answer)
  4. include as much information as you can to obtain full marks (see below)

The number of marks per question part is given in this form [4 marks]. It is essential that you give four different answers if a question is worth four marks. Sometimes you can gain an additional mark by giving the units in a calculation or stating specific data points, eg after twenty-four hours the pH of the milk at room temperature had decreased by 1.2.

Linking 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 confused. 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 an increase in the mass of potato cylinders. This is because...

Explain how and why questions often have the word 'because' in their answer. Describe questions don't.

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


Suggest how stem cells might be used to treat a patient with type 1 diabetes. [3 marks]

This question combines ideas about diabetes with stem cells and potential stem cell therapies.

When answering questions on stem cells, be careful, as therapies are being developed, rather than being used.


  • type 1 diabetes occurs when a person cannot produce any, or enough insulin
  • in the future, stem cells from a donor or family member could be transplanted
  • so that the patient can produce insulin

Sample question 2 - Foundation


Describe an experiment to demonstrate the effect of different concentrations of salt on beetroot cells. [6 marks]

This question combines ideas about osmosis and techniques used in microscopy.

While you could write about an experiment on osmosis in beetroot cylinders it's better to write about the examination of the beetroot cells.

Marking points:

  • prepare a range of concentrations of salt solution on a microscope slide
  • cut a thin slice of beetroot tissue and place it on the slide
  • place a coverslip on top
  • examine with low power, then high power to observe individual cells
  • observe/draw/record digitally what you see, but look at other areas of the slide to make sure that these observations are consistent
  • repeat with other concentrations of salt solution

Sample question 3 - Higher


Explain how plants meet the challenges of growing in hot, dry climates. [6 marks]

This question combines ideas about photosynthesis, diffusion, transpiration and surface area to volume ratios.

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer.

  • when plants open stomata to let in the carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis, water diffuses out - a process called transpiration
  • in hot, dry climates, the rate of transpiration will be higher
  • these plants have adaptations to reduce water loss
  • leaves are reduced in size and may be reduced to spines
  • stomata may be sunken in pits, surrounded by hairs or in furrows in the stem
  • wwater will be lost over the plants’ surface and the shape of the plant, eg globular, reduces the surface area to volume ratio and therefore the amount of water lost

Sample question 4 - Higher


There are two types of cell division in eukaryotes.

Explain the importance of mitosis in the growth and repair of an organism but meiosis in the production of gametes. [6 marks]

This question combines ideas about mitosis, meiosis, genetic variation and evolution.

Note that it is not just a standard, compare the difference between mitosis and meiosis, type question. It has particular focus.

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer:

  • mitosis takes place where it is essential that the daughter cells produced are identical to the parent cells
  • daughter cells must have the same alleles so that genes can be expressed appropriately
  • the production of identical daughter cells is important in growth, from the embryo, to the foetus, to the mature organism - and in the repair and replacement of damaged and worn out cells
  • meiosis is a reduction division that produces daughter cells with half the number of chromosomes as the parent cells
  • this is necessary because otherwise, a gamete would contain the same number of chromosomes as a parent (if they were produced by mitosis), and an organism’s chromosome number would double every generation
  • during meiosis, there is also an exchange of genetic material between chromosomes as their pair up. This leads to genetic variation in the offspring
  • the genetic variation from sexual reproduction contributes to the survival of a species.
  • when DNA is copied, in both types of cell division, mistakes are made – mutations occur. In the case of meiosis, this is the driving force of evolution