Six-mark questions

Six-mark questions are extended open response questions. These require longer answers than the structured questions that have fewer marks. It is wise to plan your answer first by making some notes. This will help you to include all the key points.

To gain full marks, you need to:

  • support explanations using scientific knowledge and understanding
  • use appropriate scientific words
  • write clearly and link ideas in a logical way
  • maintain a sustained line of reasoning

Six-mark questions often use these command words:

  • Describe means you should recall facts, events or processes accurately. You might need to give an account of what something looked like, or what happened.
  • Explain means you need to make something clear, or state the reasons for something happening.
  • Compare means you need to describe similarities and differences between things. If you are asked to compare X and Y, write down something about X and something about Y, and give a comparison. Do not just write about X only or Y only.
  • Evaluate means you must use information supplied, or your own knowledge, to consider the evidence for and against or to identify strengths and weaknesses. You must then complete your answer with a conclusion, stating which is better and why, for example.

Six-mark questions may be synoptic questions, which bring together ideas from two or more topics. For example, a question about fertilisers could include ideas about covalent substances, acids and alkalis, chemical calculations, and effects on the environment.

The answers shown here give marking points as bullet points. You do not usually need to include all of them to gain six marks, but you do need to write in sentences, linking them logically and clearly.

Sample question 1 - Foundation

Question

Ethene is used to make poly(ethene). Poly(ethene) is used to make plastic bags. The table below shows data from a life-cycle assessment (LCA) for a plastic bag and a paper bag.

Plastic bagPaper bag
Raw materialsCrude oil or natural gasWood
Energy used in MJ1.51.7
Mass of solid waste in g1450
Mass of CO2 produced in kg0.230.53
Volume of fresh water used in dm32554520

A company stated: 'A life-cycle assessment shows that using plastic bags has less environmental impact than using paper bags'.

Evaluate this statement. Use your knowledge and the information from the table. [6 marks]

This question is AQA material which is reproduced by permission of AQA.

The following are vaild points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

  • Paper bags are made from a renewable resource
  • Plastic bags are made from a finite resource
  • Paper bags require more energy to manufacture
  • Paper bags produce more waste
  • Paper bags are biodegradable
  • Paper bags create more CO2
  • CO2 created by paper bags will be offset by photosynthesis in growing wood
  • Paper bag requires much more fresh water
  • Paper bags cannot be recycled
  • Agree because non-renewability is less important than other factors

Or...

  • Disagree because the other factors are more important than non-renewability

Or…

  • Can't say because the data is inconclusive/incomplete/insufficient

Sample question 2 - Foundation

Question

A life-cycle assessment assesses the environmental impact of products such as smartphones. Some activities in the life cycle of a smartphone are listed below.

  • Extracting oil from oil wells
  • Making plastics from oil
  • Obtaining copper from copper ore
  • Putting together all the components
  • Packing the phone in a box
  • Watching videos on the phone
  • Taking apart the phone
  • Recycling the copper from some of the phone components

Describe the four stages that are assessed in a life-cycle assessment.

In your answer, give at least one example from the list above for each stage. [6 marks]

This question has been written by a Bitesize consultant as a suggestion to the type of question that may appear in an exam paper.

The following are vaild points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

  • First stage - extracting and processing raw materials...
  • ...for example extracting oil from oil wells
  • ...for example obtaining copper from copper ore
  • ...for example making plastics from oil
  • Second stage - manufacturing and packaging
  • ...for example putting together all the components
  • ...packing the phone in a box
  • Third stage - using the product
  • ...for example watching videos on the phone
  • Fourth stage - disposal at the end of its useful life
  • ...for example taking apart the phone
  • ...recycling the copper from some of the phone components

Sample question 3 - Higher

Question

Compare the processes involved in obtaining potable water from river water to the processes involved in treating waste water. [6 marks]

This question has been written by a Bitesize consultant as a suggestion to the type of question that may appear in an exam paper.

The following are vaild points that could be included in your answer. It is important that you do not bullet point your answer but write your sentences in full.

  • Both involve separating liquid from solid...
  • ...river water is filtered in filter beds
  • ...waste water passes through screens to remove bigger pieces of solid waste
  • Waste water undergoes sedimentation but river water normally does not
  • Sewage sludge from waste water undergoes anaerobic digestion but river water does not
  • Sewage effluent from waste water undergoes aerobic digestion but river water does not
  • River water is sterilised by chlorine, ozone or ultraviolet light, but waste water is not.

Sample question 4 - Higher

Question

Compare the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining copper from high grade ores by the traditional methods of digging, moving and disposing of large amounts of rock to obtain copper by phytomining. [6 marks]

This question has been written by a Bitesize consultant as a suggestion to the type of question that may appear in an exam paper.

  • Advantage of traditional mining - copper obtained more quickly
  • Advantage of phytomining - copper obtained from lower grade ores than is possible by traditional mining
  • Disadvantages of traditional mining include digging large amounts of rock from the ground, which causes environmental damage.
  • ...and increased vehicle emissions from lorries moving copper ore
  • ...and producing large amounts of waste rock that must be disposed of
  • Disadvantage of phytomining - copper obtained more slowly