Six mark questions

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

Six mark questions are marked using a levels-based mark scheme because they are open ended. To gain full marks, you need to:

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

You are likely to see command words such as:

  • '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 atoms could include ideas about atomic structure, isotopes, radiation and nuclear reactions. Remember that the topics covered in the first paper are assumed knowledge for the second paper, so questions in the second paper may need knowledge and understanding of those topics too.

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.

Questions courtesy of Eduqas.

Sample question 1 - Foundation


The Highway Code provides information about stopping distances.

The overall stopping distance is divided into two parts; thinking distance and braking distance.

Some of the factors which affect the overall stopping distance are shown in the table below.

Column AColumn BColumn C
Speed of the vehicleCondition of the brakes OR road surface conditionsAlcohol OR tiredness

Choose one factor from each column of the table and describe fully how the chosen factors affect the distances described above. [6 marks]

If the vehicle is travelling faster then the thinking distance is increased and the braking distance is also increased [1]. This means that the overall stopping distance is greater (or the converse for a vehicle travelling more slowly) [1]. If the brakes are worn (or poor road surface conditions), the thinking distance is unaffected but the braking distance is increased [1]. This again leads to an increased stopping distance (or the converse for new brakes) [1]. If the driver has drunk alcohol or is tired, the reaction time is bigger and so the thinking distance is greater [1]. Although the braking distance is unaffected, the overall stopping distance is greater [1].

Answering tip: Briefly plan the key points you want to include in your answer. For example:

  • indicate clearly the three factors you have chosen - for each factor refer to the thinking distance, braking distance and overall stopping distance
  • describe clearly whether these distances are increased, decreased or unaffected by the factor

Sample question 2 - Foundation


The government is considering increasing the motorway speed limit from 70 miles per hour (mph) to 80 mph.

Standard thinking distances and braking distances for a variety of speeds are given in the table below. They apply to an alert driver on a dry day.

Speed (mph)Thinking distance (m)Braking distance (m)Total stopping distance (m)

Discuss the advantages and disadvantages for taking a journey of 280 miles at 80 mph compared with 70 mph.

The advantage is that the time taken for the given journey would be reduced from 4 hours to 3.5 hours [1], as t = d ÷ s:

If s = 70, t = 280 ÷ 70 so t = 4 [1]

If s = 80, t = 280 ÷ 80 so t = 3.5 [1]

As the time taken for the journey is reduced, the risk of an accident caused by tiredness will also reduce. This is because less time is spent driving [1].

On the other hand, the disadvantage is that in the event of an emergency stop being necessary, the total stopping distance will increase from 96 m to 121.5 m, increasing the risk of serious injury or death [1]. Also if there is a collision, the force on the vehicle and the occupants will be greater as momentum has increased due to the increase in speed. (Momentum = mass × velocity) [1].

Answering tip: Briefly plan the key points you want to include in your answer. For example:

  • include in your answer information from the table above
  • you should use the equation: time = distance ÷ speed

Sample question 3 - Higher


A number of safety features appear in modern cars to protect the people in the car in a head-on collision. A passenger safety cage and a collapsible steering column are two safety features.

Name two other safety features and explain the physics behind their design. [6 marks]

Other safety features are:

  • air bag
  • seat belt
  • head restraints
  • crumple zone

Only write about two of these features.


Air bag

During a collision the air bag inflates very quickly and fills the void between the passenger and the car body with a cushion of gas. This can be in front or to the side of the passenger. When the passenger strikes the inflated air bag, the area of contact is quite large and the force is spread out, meaning there will be less pressure which in turn reduces injury.

Seat belt

Seat belts are designed to hold the passenger back in the event of a collision and prevent them from being thrown forwards towards the dashboard and windscreen if sitting in the front seats.

The belt provides a large force on the passenger to prevent as little forward motion as is possible. On their own they are less effective, as was the case with older cars, but with modern cars they work with other safety features such as air bags and head restraints to give wider protection.

Head restraint

Head restraints are a safety feature that help reduce whiplash injuries to passengers when they are forced backwards and forwards during a collision.

The head restraint provides a force on the passenger’s head to prevent it from moving back too much in the event of a collision. It can also absorb, by virtue of its material, some of the kinetic energy, reducing further backward and forward head motion as the car comes to rest.

Crumple zone

Crumple zones are incorporated into the front and rear of the car and are designed to give and crush in an impact to reduce the injuries to the passengers.

They work by absorbing a lot of the kinetic energy during impact and also by increasing the time it takes for the car to stop, thus reducing the value of the deceleration and hence the force produced. The force of the seat belt on the passengers is also reduced in the same way due to these zones.

Answering tip: Briefly plan the key points you want to include in your answer. For example:

  • the name of two other safety features is needed
  • a description of what each one does in a collision
  • an explanation of how each one works in terms of either forces or energy