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. 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). For example, '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 Bitesize consultants as suggestions to the types of questions that may appear in an exam paper.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


Explain how an increase in temperature effects the rate of enzyme action. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer:

  • at low temperatures, low kinetic energy of enzymes and substrates results in few successful collisions
  • as the temperature increases, the kinetic energy increases, increasing the number of enzyme substrate collisions in a given time
  • more collisions results in the formation of more enzyme substrate complexes
  • more enzyme-substrate complexes results in more product formed in a given time increasing the rate of reaction
  • at high temperatures vibrations within the enzyme molecule break the bonds holding the active site in its specific shape
  • the enzyme becomes denatured as the substrate can no longer fit into the active site, despite there being even more collisions


Sample question 2 - Higher


Discuss the arguments for and against stem cell research. [6 marks]

The following is a list of valid points that could be included in your answer:

  • research on stem cells could lead to therapies to treat conditions such as diabetes and paralysis
  • tesearch could be used to increase our understanding of cell development/differentiation
  • stem cells could be used to test new drugs
  • adult stem cells are rare in the human body and few in numbers
  • they do not differentiate in many different cell types, so can only be used to treat certain conditions
  • embryonic stem cells have the potential to differentiate into a greater number of cell types
  • the use of embryonic stem cells involves destruction of an embryo
  • people object to the use of embryos for stem cell research for ethical, social and religious reasons
  • stem cell therapy, so far, has had limited success
  • stem cell therapy may lead to viral infections