Structured questions and short answer questions

Questions with 1, 2, 3 or 4 marks usually start with command words. If a question starts with the command word 'state', 'give', 'name' or 'write down', it needs a short answer only. This type of question can often be answered with one word or phrase.

It is important to state, give, name or write down the number of things that the question asks for. If you write down fewer, you cannot get all the marks. If you write down more, and one is wrong, you might lose a mark.

Some questions start with the command words 'describe', 'explain' or 'compare'. These are often worth two or more marks:

  • 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. The points in the answer must be linked together. The answer must not be a list of reasons. All the points must be relevant to the question.
  • 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.

More complex structured questions will be worth three or four marks. They include questions with complex descriptions and explanations, and questions in which you need to compare things.

Three and four-mark questions usually require longer answers than one and two-mark questions.

Some of the answers are shown here as bullet points. This is to show clearly how a mark can be obtained. However, do not use bullet points in your answers - the points must be linked together logically.

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


Why is aluminium positioned in group 3 of the periodic table? [1 mark]

It has three electrons in its outer energy level/outer shell. [1]

Sample question 2 - Foundation


A student carries out an experiment to determine the melting point of a waxy solid. She heats a sample until it melts, then measures and records its temperature as it cools down.

Explain how the student could use her results to decide whether the waxy solid is a pure substance or a mixture. [4 marks]

  • Plot a graph of temperature against time. [1]
  • Temperature remains constant at the melting point. [1]
  • A pure substance gives a sharp melting point (line should be horizontal). [1]
  • A mixture melts over a range of temperatures (line will not be horizontal). [1]

Sample question 3 - Higher


Use data from table 1 to explain why ethanol and water can be separated using fractional distillation. [3 marks]

Table 1

SubstanceBoiling point

Ethanol has a lower boiling point than water. [1]

On heating, ethanol vapour leaves the mixture of liquids first. [1]>

The ethanol vapour can be cooled and condensed separately. [1]

Sample question 4 - Higher


Use data from table 2 to choose two atoms that are different isotopes of the same element. Explain your choice. [2 marks]

Table 2

AtomNo of protonsNo of neutronsNo of electrons

V and Z [1]

The two atoms have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons. [1]