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 the 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.

Sample question 1 - Higher


Radiation from different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum can affect the human body in many ways.

Discuss the different ways in which excessive exposure to electromagnetic radiations of various frequencies may cause damage to the human body.

[6 marks]

An Edexcel question courtesy of Pearson Education Ltd.

A discussion including some of the following points:

  • possible dangerous e-m radiations
  • microwaves
  • infrared
  • ultraviolet (UV)
  • gamma rays

Correctly linked to:

  • internal heating of body cells (microwaves)
  • skin burns (infrared)
  • damages skin cells/sunburn (UV)
  • damages eyes (UV)
  • can cause skin cancer (UV)
  • can cause cataracts (UV)
  • damage to cells inside the body( X-rays)
  • mutate/ kill cells in the body (gamma)
  • damages DNA (X-rays and gamma rays)


Two marks for any one radiation correctly linked to its type of damage. One mark for each correctly linked radiation and its corresponding damage thereafter.

For an alternative mark link to frequency: As the frequency increases/wavelength decreases (microwave → gamma) the waves become more penetrating and do more damage/danger as they have more energy.