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 lose marks, get steps in a process in the wrong order or forget key bits of information.

Six mark questions will start with command words such as 'describe', 'explain', 'calculate', 'compare', 'design', 'plan' or 'evaluate'. 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 number of radioactive nuclei decreases as time 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 to structure your answer in a logical way, linking your ideas together as you move from one point to the next. Often, you will be asked to compare two things. Make sure that you include both in your answer, otherwise you are likely to limit your score to two marks out of six marks.

This page contains AQA material which is reproduced by permission of AQA.

Sample question 1 - Foundation & 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]

The answer should contain a full and detailed plan covering all the major steps needed to calculate specific heat capacity. The steps should be set out in a logical manner that could be followed by another person.

To receive full marks, the following points should be made:

  • measure the mass of metal using a balance
  • describe how energy is transferred to the metal, eg 'an immersion heater connected to a power pack is inserted into the metal sample
  • describe how energy transfer is measured, eg using a Joulemeter
  • energy transferred = increase in thermal energy store of the metal
  • calculate specific heat capacity using the equation: E = mcT

To get into the five to six mark band for this question there needs to be a clear and logically structured answer. It's a good idea to plan your response before writing it out. Write down what you know about this particular experiment and the transfer of energy then plan the best order for your answer. When writing your answer, write in clear concise language and full sentences.

Sample question 2 - Higher


A farmer plans to generate all the electricity needed on her farm, using either a biogas generator or a small wind turbine.

The biogas generator would burn methane gas. The methane gas would come from rotting the animal waste produced on the farm. When burnt, methane produces carbon dioxide.

The biogas generator would cost £18,000 to buy and install. The wind turbine would cost £25,000 to buy and install.

The average power output from the wind turbine would be the same as the continuous output from the biogas generator.

Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the two methods of generating electricity.

Conclude with a reason for deciding which system would be better for the farmer to buy and install. [6 marks]

When answering a question which asks you to draw comparisons, it may be a good idea to make lists of the advantages and disadvantages. This is so you can quickly plan your answer and maintain structure throughout.

The comparisons may include:

Biogasrenewable, energy resource is free, reliable energy source, does not depend on the weather, uses up (animal) waste products, concentrated energy source, cheaper (to buy and install), shorter pay-back time (than wind), no transport cost for fuelsadds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributes to the greenhouse effect, contributes to global warming
Windrenewable, energy resource is free, does not produce any carbon dioxide not reliable, depends on the weather/wind, there will be times when not enough electricity is generated for the farm's needs, dilute energy source longer pay-back time (than biogas), more expensive (to buy and install)

To achieve five to six marks you must then conclude your answer with what you think is the better option for the farmer and your reasoning as to why.