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.

These questions have been written by a Bitesize consultant as a suggestion to the type of questions that may appear in an exam paper.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Describe the processes in the water cycle. [6 marks]

In your answer you should cover the following:

  • water evaporates from all places on the Earth's surface like oceans and lakes
  • transpiration occurs when water evaporates from plants
  • water vapour can then cool into clouds as it rises
  • these can be transported many miles by the wind
  • this water can then fall as precipitation such as rain, snow and hail
  • this water can either run off the land surface or soak into it during infiltration

Sample question 2 - Foundation


Describe the effects of global warming. [6 marks]

In your answer you should cover the following points.

Some of the consequences of global warming are:

  • melting of the polar ice caps
  • the rise in sea level threatens many cities such as London, New York and Amsterdam
  • weather patterns will change with more unusual weather
  • animals will migrate towards the poles to find habitats with suitable temperatures
  • tropical diseases may become more common in other regions, such as the Europe
  • many species will become extinct

Sample question 3 – Higher


Describe the processes in the carbon cycle and the conversions that occur. [6 marks]

In your answer you should cover the following:

  • photosynthesis [1] converts carbon in carbon dioxide to glucose [1]
  • respiration [1] converts carbon in glucose to carbon dioxide [1]
  • combustion [1] means burning. This converts carbon in the fuel to carbon dioxide [1]

You need to add a logical structure to your answer, so you may find it useful to sketch a diagram or flow chart of the carbon cycle to help you plan the sequence of points you make.

Sample question 4 – Higher


Explain why the process of genetic modification of a crop plant to include a gene for herbicide resistance is more effective at producing herbicide resistant crops than using selective breeding. [6 marks]

In your answer you should cover the following:

  • description of the process involved in genetically modifying a crop plant
  • description of how you would selectively breed a plant resistant to herbicides
  • description of how you could produce a whole crop from the original plants
  • evaluation of the time, cost and accuracy of each of the methods described