Tag Archives: Exams

Exam technique – Explain Questions

Explain questions expect you to give the reasons for something using your scientific knowledge.  You should make sure that your answer flows sensibly, linking key ideas.  You should not just give a list of reasons.  If they wanted a list of reasons then that is what they would ask for.

Example: Explain why stars give out heat and light.

Stars contain vast amounts of hydrogen which is under high pressure and at a high temperature.  This means that nuclear fusion can occur.  This is when hydrogen nuclei join together to form helium nuclei.  The process releases large amounts of energy as heat and light.


Exam technique – “Evaluate” questions

An evaluate question can be a lot like a compare question.  Most of your marks will be gained from comparing two different things (see Exam technique – compare questions).  However, you will also be expected to decide which of the two things is better and explain why.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to evaluate just one thing, in which case you will be expected give the pros and cons before making your final judgement.

Some useful terms to use in your evaluation…

“Overall, I think… because…”

“I believe … because”

“… is better than…because…”

“I would pick… because…”

Note that all of these have a “because” as explain your reasoning is important here.

Example: Evaluate the use of animal testing in drug manufacture.

Animal testing has various advantages and disadvantages.  It allows us to see whether drugs have any adverse effects before we try them on patients.  It also allows us to test whether the drug actually cures the disease if we test it on an animal with that disease.  However, animals have to be given the illness for this to happen so it may be considered cruel.  Overall, I think it is important to continue to use animal testing because without it many humans might die from taking untested drugs.


Exam technique – “Describe” questions

A describe question covers many possibilities.  You could be being asked to recall some facts (e.g. Describe the factors affecting rates of reactions) or a process (e.g. Describe how the body regulates glucose levels in the blood) in an accurate way.  Alternatively you could be being asked to state what is shown in a graph (e.g. Describe how the motion of the car changes over the first five minutes).  A describe question could be worth anything from  1 to 6 marks so it is always worth looking to see how much you are expected to write.

Whichever type of describe question it is, what is expected of you is a detailed answer given in a logical order.

Have a look at the two answers below and see if you can spot what makes the second one better than the first.

Q.  Describe your journey to school.

A1. I walk from my house to the tram stop.  Then I get the tram.  When I get off, I walk to school.

A2.  I leave my house at 7.30 am and walk to Mitcham tram stop.  I then take the tram to Merton Park.  The tram is usually very busy in the mornings and so I don’t get to sit down.  When I get off the tram, I walk down Kingston Road to get to school.  Sometimes I stop on the way to buy some crisps.  I get to school at about 8.10am.


What makes the second answer better is that it gives the names of places and times.  It also adds in detail.  These are the same things that could improve your describe answers in science.



Exam technique – answering calculate questions

Calculate questions are the ones that students tend to be pretty good at.  You need to find the appropriate numbers in the question, plug them in the right equation and off you go.  You can get marks for showing your working if you’ve followed the right method, even if you’ve got the final answer worng.

You can also sometimes get a mark for writing the units, even if you’ve got the answer wrong.  Always do this if they don’t give you the units already!


Exam technique – “Compare” questions

A compare question is asking you to describe the similarities and differences between things.  Comparisons should refer to both things that you are expected to compare.

Some words and phrases that can be useful to answer compare questions (x and y refer to the things you are comparing)

  • x is bigger than y
  • x is more/less ____________ than y
  • …whereas…
  • …also…
  • similarly…
  • by contrast…
  • …the same as…
  • On the other hand…
  • x does…. but y doesn’t

For example…

Compare Miss Jackson with Mr Gale.

Both Miss Jackson and Mr Gale are science teachers.  

Miss Jackson is shorter than Mr Gale.

Mr Gale is male whereas Miss Jackson is female.  

Miss Jackson is a Biology specialist.  By contrast, Mr Gale is a Chemistry specialist.  

Miss Jackson often wears skirts whereas Mr Gale doesn’t.

Mr Gale has less hair than Miss Jackson.


Note how each of these comparisons refers to both Miss Jackson and Mr Gale whilst using a comparative term to distinguish between them.  It is sentences like these that will get you marks in a Compare question!