Exam questions

It's clear that revising content knowledge will help you to perform better in the exam. But what about understanding the language of the questions themselves?

Here you can work your way through the styles of questions on each paper and, crucially, the 'command terms' for Papers 2 and 3.


Paper 1: Multiple choice

All multiple choice questions come with four possible answers. Only one is correct and all marking is positive (you won't lose marks for guessing incorrectly). There are a few tricks and techniques you can use for multiple choice questions:

  • All words in the question are there to be used.
  • Any equivalent responses can be eliminated.
  • Use dimensional analysis to check if a formula, expression or unit could be feasible.
  • Consider whether the answer needs to be positive or negative, above or below the axis.
  • If there are graphs involved, what could the gradient or area represent?

Paper 2/3: Easy

You have full control over some of your marks. Memorise what you can and bring a full set of equipment (e.g. ruler, sharp pencil, eraser, protractor).

  • Define, label, list state or write down - No working required. A response should be possible either by factual recall or a single process on the exam script.
  • Draw or label - Use correct equipment, and consider scale, quantities and units. Plot points accurately and join in a straight line or smooth curve.
  • Measure - Use the exam script itself to obtain a value (e.g. length).

Paper 2/3: Medium

There will be questions that you can't predict, but which will still be worth 1-2 marks.

  • Annotate - Notes required
  • Apply - Use an idea, equation, principle, theory or law, usually by stating its definition first.
  • Calculate - Working and answer required.
  • Describe, formulate or outline - Give a detailed account or summary.
  • Distinguish - What is the key difference?
  • Estimate - Obtain an approximate value.
  • Identify - Choose from a range of possible answers.
  • Plot - Check the scales carefully looking at the numbers on either side of an interval before using a + symbol for your points.

Paper 2/3: Hard

Some questions are more difficult because several processes are required to reach an answer. It is sensible to keep an eye on the question number as roman numerals will link to the point immediately beforehand, whereas letters could be distinct from what came before (or even relate back to the starting point of the whole question).

  • Analyse or explain - Write down the essential components.
  • Comment - Give a judgment based on a given statement or result of a calculation.
  • Compare, compare and contrast, discuss or evaluate - Ensure you signpost your response by naming the item you are referring to at all times.
  • Construct or design - Produce a diagram or plan.
  • Deduce - Reach a conclusion from the information given.
  • Demonstrate, derive, show or show that - Ensure that you work forwards from the detail in the question towards the answer showing all equations, rearrangements and substitutions.
  • Determine or solve - Use logic or mathematics to reach only one possible answer.
  • Hence or predict - Use what you have just found out to work onwards.
  • Justify - Give valid reasons or evidence to support an answer or conclusion.
  • Sketch - Usually only a qualitative relationship is required, but include key numbers if you know them.
  • Suggest - Give a possible response with an explanation (always worth 2 marks).

Nature of science

A few marks (usually 2-3) per exam series are dedicated to the nature of science. While proportionately not worth hours of revision, the Subject Guide contains ideas for each topic. Overall you should be able to consider:

  1. What constitutes science?
  2. Understanding science.
  3. How can scientists be objective?
  4. The scientific community and public relations.
  5. Scientific literacy and policy.