Extended written answers in science examinations
Teachers can use these resources to improve pupil performance in extended writing of examination answers.
The two key elements are:
- Understanding the question – top tips
- Ask pupils to be clear about what the question is asking so that they can structure their written response.
- Annotate any observations or key points (e.g. use speech bubbles).
- Highlight any key vocabulary, facts or information.
- Identify the 'command word' and consider what this implies. You might also like to refer to your awarding body's specific resource on command words.
- Look at the number of marks allocated – how many key points will you need?
- Constructing an answer that meets the requirements of the marking scheme – top tips
- Ask pupils to:
- use key information from the question, including from graphs, tables and pictures
- include key scientific vocabulary
- use appropriate connectives to link statements
- construct a logical sequence.
Suggested teaching approaches
- Remind pupils of the 'Point, Evidence, Explanation' (PEE) strategy used in English to construct extended answers. This could be supported by the Thinking Frames approach.
- Model how you would answer a question, explaining your thinking out loud and annotating the question, to construct the full written answer jointly with pupils as a class activity.
- Model the thinking process with another question and ask the pupils to fill in the answers (individually or in pairs).
- Pupils answer a complete question independently, but annotate as the teacher has demonstrated.
- Pupils answer a complete question without any scaffolding.
- Unpick pupils' answers by comparing to the awarding body marking scheme to reach agreement on what a good answer looks like.
- Use peer assessment, measured against specific success criteria.
- Provide a poor answer and ask pupils to suggest improvements.
- Provide several exemplar answers to a question and get pupils to discuss why one answer is better than another and develop criteria for a successful answer, which they can then apply to another question.
- Consult the examiners' reports from the awarding bodies for further advice. The section on 'Overcoming weaknesses in GCSE science' explores common weaknesses and provides links to materials to help address these.
Further resources are available to:
- support the writing of descriptions, explanations and argumentation
- show the relevant statements within the grade criteria for 2011 GCSE science specifications
- support the development of graphical skills if these are limiting pupils’ ability to write extended answers.