They are every physics student's worst nightmare questions:
These questions are usually worth good marks (usually about 3 marks, or 6 marks for extended writing questions), and they certainly look scary because there are so many blank lines underneath, just waiting for your answer. But how do you tackle these questions?
How to Approach These Questions?
So you've been practising your GCSE Physics Ninja flashcards and now have your head full of physics knowledge, facts and ideas. You're trying a past paper and here comes an 'Explain why...' type question. The first thing to write down are some physics FACTS or IDEAS relevant to the question. Here's an example question from the Jan 2012 Unit P1 paper:
"A wet towel spread out and hung outside on a day without wind dries faster than an identical wet towel left rolled up in a plastic bag. Explain why. (2 marks)"
So what physics facts can we start with?
- The wet towel which is hung up has a greater surface area than the rolled-up towel.
- The rate of evaporation increases with a greater surface area
- the plastic bag will stop evaporated water particles from escaping.
How Many Marks?
It's also a good plan to notice how many marks are going for this question (2 in this case). So we need two or more physics facts. Aim for three and you're covered!
For questions carrying more marks, you'll need to 'drill down' deeper to find more related facts and ideas. Each time you write down a physics fact, ask yourself, "what do I know about... [choose a keyword from the question or your answer so far]".
So simply describing what you know about the physics situation can earn you good marks.
Try It - It Works!
Try this technique next time you are working through a past paper and you'll feel more confident about the 'dreaded' explain, describe or discuss type questions!
What are your experiences with this type of extended writing question? Do share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
P.S. If you would like to know more about the AQA exam 'command words' such as 'explain', or 'describe' then check out this guide.