Six-mark questions

Six-mark questions are extended open response questions. These require longer answers than the structured questions. It is wise to plan your answer rather than rushing straight into it, otherwise you may stray away from the key points.

Most questions on exam papers have mark schemes that give key points that are given marks. The six-mark questions are marked differently: they use a levels-based mark scheme. This type of mark scheme is used because these questions are more open-ended. To gain full marks, you need to:

  • support explanations using scientific knowledge and understanding
  • use appropriate scientific words and terms
  • write clearly and link ideas in a logical way
  • maintain a sustained line of reasoning, rather than getting lost or bogged down

Six-mark questions often use these command words:

  • Describe - you need to give an account but no reason
  • Explain - you must give reasons or explanations
  • Devise - you must plan or invent a procedure using your scientific knowledge and understanding
  • Evaluate - you must review information, including identifying strengths and weaknesses, and make a supported conclusion

Six-mark questions may be synoptic questions. These questions 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 full sentences, linking them logically and clearly.

Answers are placed in three marking bands:

  • 1 to 2 marks for answers showing limited content and reasoning and with significant omissions.
  • 3 to 4 marks for answers that give some relevant points, with linking and reasoning and with fewer omissions.
  • 5 to 6 marks for answers that link most of the relevant points, with good links and reasoning. They will have few, if any, omissions.

Questions courtesy of Eduqas.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


A small amount of an element, which is not a giant molecule, was heated and its temperature was recorded over a period of 12 minutes. At room temperature the element is a solid. The results are shown on the grid below.

Graph of boiling point time versus temperature

Describe and explain, using particle theory, the changes that occur to the element when it is heated over the period of the first 12 minutes. [6 marks]

Your answer can include any of the following:

  • it starts with a solid in which particles are closely packed and fixed in place
  • time 0-1 min - as temperature increases vibrations increase but the particles cannot break free of each other
  • between 1-5 mins the energy supplied allows particles to break free from a rigid structure - the substance is melting
  • in a liquid, particles are still closely packed but are no longer in a fixed structure and can move around
  • between 5-8 mins it becomes a liquid in which the particles gain more and more energy and move faster but remain close together
  • between 8-12 mins the energy is supplied to overcome forces of attraction between particles - the element is boiling.
  • the particles break free of each other forming a gas in which particles are widely spaced


Sample question 2 - Higher


An atom of E is represented as follows.


State and explain what information this gives about element E.

You may wish to refer to the key on the periodic table to help you answer this question. [6 marks]

Your answer can include any of the following:

  • element has a mass number of 35 and an atomic number of 17
  • 17 protons given by atomic number - must have same number of electrons because atoms are neutral
  • 17 electrons arranged in shells with electronic structure 2,8,7
  • element is in period 3 - the number of occupied electron shells is 3
  • element is in group 7 - the number of electrons in outer shell is 7
  • element E is chlorine
  • number of neutrons is 18 - this is the difference between the mass number and atomic number