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’ 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), linking these together.

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


Describe the ways in which pathogens can be transmitted. Give examples in your answer. [6 marks]

  • Direct contact which can be sexual or non-sexual [1].
  • Dirty water can transmit many diseases such as the cholera bacterium [1].
  • When a person who is infected by the common cold sneezes they can spray thousands of tiny droplets containing virus particles to infect others [1].
  • Undercooked or reheated food can cause diseases like Escherichia coli which is a cause of food poisoning [1].
  • Via another animal called a vector [1].
  • Additional marks for correct pathogens and disease [1].

Sample question 2


Describe how we can prevent the spread of disease. [6 marks]

  • Water can be sterilised by chemicals [1] or UV light [1] to kill pathogens.
  • Cooking foods thoroughly [1] and preparing them in hygienic conditions [1] kills pathogens.
  • Washing surfaces with disinfectants kills or reduces pathogens [1].
  • Vaccinations introduce a small or weakened version of a pathogen into your body [1] so your immune system learns how to defend itself [1].
  • Using barrier contraception like condoms stops the transfer of bodily fluids and so sexually transmitted diseases [1].
  • Additional marks for other examples of correct disease and prevention strategy [1].

Sample question 3


Describe the symptoms of a name bacterial, viral and fungal infections of humans. [6 marks]

  1. Fungus: Athlete's Foot [1]; the skin of the feet becomes itchy, flaky and can start to blister [1].
  2. Virus: Measles [1] causes fever and a skin rash [1]
  3. Virus: HIV AIDS [1]: HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and initially only causes mild flu-like symptoms [1]. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome [1] and means that months or years after infection the virus becomes active and starts to attack the patient's immune system [1].
  4. Bacteria: Gonorrhoea [1] causes a burning pain when urinating [1]. It can form a thick yellow or green discharge from an infected person's penis or vagina [1].
  5. Bacteria: Salmonella [1] causes fever, cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea [1]

Sample question 4


Describe how non-specific human defence systems stop you from falling ill. [6 marks]

  1. Your skin covers almost all parts of your body to prevent infection from pathogens [1].
  2. Your nose has hairs within them which act as a physical barrier to infection [1].
  3. Mucus is produced by goblet cells in your nose, throat and trachea [1].
  4. Mucus traps dust and pathogens [1].
  5. Pathogens in mucus are wafted by ciliated cells to your throat and swallowed [1].
  6. These form hybridoma cells called which divide indefinitely [1].
  7. Stomach acid kills pathogens [1].