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’ or ‘explain’. 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 that you give as many different points in your answer as possible, linking these together. 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


An electromagnet is a solenoid.

Explain why it is better to use an electromagnet rather than a permanent magnet in a scrapyard.

You should include a comparison of the properties of electromagnets and permanent magnets in your answer. [6 marks]

An electromagnet can be switched on and off. This means it can both pick up and release a car body. As the strength of the electromagnet can also be changed, it can be used to move cars of different masses from place to place. The strength of a permanent magnet cannot be varied but it also cannot be turned off, meaning cars can be picked up but they could not be released without applying a very large force to pull them away from the magnet.

A strong answer will be clearly worded with good use of scientific key words. It may include the following points:

  • an electromagnet can be switched on and off
  • so it can be used to lift a car body
  • and release a car body
  • so it can easily be used to move car bodies from one place to another in the scrapyard
  • a permanent magnet cannot be switched off to release a car body
  • so would not be as useful in the scrapyard
  • the strength of the magnetic field of an electromagnet can be varied
  • so an electromagnet can lift different masses
  • so can deal with different vehicles
  • but the strength of the magnetic field of a permanent magnet cannot be varied or is fixed
  • so a permanent magnet can only lift up to a certain mass


Sample question 2 - Higher


The figure below shows the parts of a moving-coil loudspeaker.

A coil of wire is positioned in the gap between the north and south poles of the cylindrical magnet:

Cylindrical magnet with a paper cone in front, it has two north poles and one south pole, around which is a coil of wire attached to leads which lead to a circuit.

Explain how the loudspeaker converts current in an electrical circuit to a sound wave. [6 marks]

The current through the electrical circuit passes through the coil, inducing a magnetic field. This causes the coil to experience a force. When the current in the circuit and coil is reversed, the force will be in the opposite direction. The frequency at which the current alternates is the frequency the vibrating coil causes the paper cone to vibrate the air molecules. The air molecules bunch together forming compressions, and spread apart forming rarefactions.

A strong answer will be clearly worded with good use of scientific key words. You will need to describe how variations in current link to pressure variations of the sound wave. You could include the following ideas:

  • the current in the electrical circuit is varying
  • the current passes through the coil
  • the coil experiences a force (inwards or outwards)
  • reversing the current reverses the force
  • the size of the current affects the size of the force
  • the varying current causes the coil to vibrate
  • the (vibrating) coil causes the cone to vibrate
  • the vibrating cone causes the air molecules to move
  • the movement of the air molecules produces the pressure variations in the air needed for a sound wave
  • the air molecules bunch together forming compressions and spread apart forming rarefactions