6 Mark Questions

This is one approach to teaching the dreaded 6 mark AQA questions. I’d be interested in comments or suggestions, as ever. The powerpoint that goes along with it was set up for B1, but is obviously easily changed. 6 Mark Questions as ppt.


  • Recap key facts
  • Improve structure of answers to 6 mark questions
  • (Appreciate that it’s hard to write good 6 mark questions and markschemes)


Question on board, set timer running: “You have 6 minutes.”

I do it, We do it together

Ask what they think the aim of the lesson is.

6 mark questions may require explanations, examples to illustrate a specified concept, judgements of advantages and disadvantages, a description of a process or an experimental method. Marks are awarded for scientific content and the quality of the writing. This means key ideas must be clear and the explanation must make sense, the points in a logical order. Most students lose marks because their answers lack sufficient detail eg scientific vocabulary or because their answer is rambling or confused. Markschemes will usually include graded answers (low=1-2 marks, 3-4, 5-6) and examiners will decide which description fits best, then award the higher or lower score depending on the quality of writing. Aim for between 4 and 6 scientific points or steps in a process; if opposing viewpoints are needed include points for and against, or examples of plants and animals etc.

Introduce method:

  • Bullet point ideas
  • Number the points to give a logical sequence, adding or removing points.
  • Use this order to write coherent sentences.

Model with a new question, ask students to consider how they would structure their answer, show numbers, ask them to discuss possible sentences based on these points. Compare with each other, pick up on details needed by examiner.

You do it together

Give them more questions, have them discuss one in pairs while they attempt it. Collaboration should be about making suggestions and producing two different answers which can be compared, not one identical answer. You could give a choice or set it by rows. Go through example bullet points, discuss gaps, additions and exclusions. Elicit possible/useful connectives.

You do it alone

Attempt a question in exam conditions, following method. Compare to markscheme (ideally this one should be a past or sample question with specified allowed answers) and make specific improvements. Return to the original Starter question and annotate their answer, explaining why they would change various parts.


  • Have students write their own questions and markschemes for specific points in the syllabus. Linking this to higher order tasks via Blooms or SOLO may be useful.
  • Use the questions to play consequences where one student writes a question, one writes bullet points, one sequences and a last writes full sentences. This will end up with four complete answers which can then be discussed.
  • Give sample answers and have students mark them, first with and then without a markscheme. What do they forget? What level of detail is required?


UPDATE: A useful approach from @gregtheseal via twitpic, and I like the ‘CUSTARD’ mnemonic shared by @IanMcDaid. Thank you!


5 thoughts on “6 Mark Questions”

  1. I think that this is a good way to support students to answer 6 mark questions.

    You could ask students to identify the sort do science ideas that the examiner will be looking for.

    Also, remember that because these are level marked the examiners will not be looking for 5 or 6 different marking points.

    Also, having examples of really good answers and a well written bad answers for the students to identify what are the characteristics of each of them – compare and contrast, perhaps.

    Another really important thing is to make sure that the students know what is meant by the different key words such as describe, explain and evaluate. At ASE I went to a talk from AQA, and it was suggested that kids were losing marks in the longer questions because they were not undersanding what the command word was expecting them to do e.g. describing the shape of the graph rather than explaining why it was that shape.

  2. Interesting. I’ve never seen this approach. It seems like the approach is one way to integrate writing with subject-matter content. are 6-mark questions part of your exam system?

    I like what you said about modelling. That is so important!

    1. Yes, recent exam spec has introduced more open-ended questions with marks or clarity of answers. I like the idea but can be quite challenging for students, even when they’re good with the content.

      I’ve deliberately used the stages based on work by Fisher and Frey on their grr model for literacy tasks, which values an explicit stage where students work collaboratively, but with independant outcomes. I need to finish the post with my ideas about applying the model to science.

  3. Thank you (again) for sharing this useful resource. I am guilty of not spending nearly enough time this year on supporting students’ ability to tackle these questions. Will try to follow your formidable lead over the coming weeks!

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