GCSE Science: How Command Words Will Help You Get More Marks
Amy studied at the University of Bristol and is our revision blog guru. She only graduated recently so understands the pressures of being a student better than most, and is here to share her wisdom so that you revise effectively, smash your exams, succeed at school and write cracking university and job applications.
Today we’re talking about command words: one of the most important things to be aware of when it comes to GCSE Science exams. Command words crop up frequently in exam questions, and will help you make sure you approach questions in the right way.
Often with command words, they’re fairly self-explanatory. ‘State’ questions are usually 1 markers with a simple task attached. Whether it’s an equation in Chemistry, a law in Physics or a definition in Biology, your job is simply to write it out in plain and simple terms your answer. When asked to state something, there’s no need for detailed explanations. ‘State’ your answer and move forward.
The trap that many fall into with ‘Describe’ questions is treating them as ‘Explain’ questions, when in fact you don’t have to go into reams of detail about theories. Simply do what the question asks, and describe the process of events, without going too far into explaining the hows and whys. ‘Describe’ questions can bring in varying numbers of marks, but whether they’re 2-mark questions or 5-mark questions, resist the temptation to start explaining!
Where explanations aren’t required in ‘Describe’ questions, they absolutely are in ‘Explain’ questions. The key with ‘Explain’ questions is to describe why certain things happened, rather than just what took place. Having the word ‘because’ (or any equivalent) in your mind as you think about your answer is important. Don’t assume the examiner will know what you’re talking about. Explain yourself clearly.
‘Calculate’ questions are more common in Physics and Chemistry, as they’re centred on picking the right equations and formulae to work out an answer mathematically. Be sure to show your workings and include your units of measurement, and make it clear how you got to your final answer.
In ‘Compare’ questions, don’t just focus on the differences between the two things being compared. You can also get marks for pointing out similarities between them; but acknowledging both the similarities and differences provides a far stronger answer. ‘Compare’ questions are common across all three sciences, and often you’ll have to work off your own knowledge rather than simply information provided in the question.
You also be asked to ‘Evaluate’ in some questions. When evaluating you must be sure to weigh up both sides of the argument in your answer in order to reach a conclusion. ‘Evaluate’ questions require clear discussion of both elements in the question, and a consideration of the pros and cons.
‘Discuss’ questions are generally the ones that are worth the most marks, as they require the most knowledge and detail. It’s vital to pay full attention to how the question is worded and what it’s asking of you specifically, as it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose focus when answering lengthy and open-ended ‘Discuss’ questions. As with all questions, the number of marks available is a solid indicator of how much information you need to put in, and the rough ball parlk that a 4-mark question requires at least four separate pieces of information will help you stay on track with your answer.