Considering Geography GCSE or A Level? Read our FAQ here Watch

Leviathan1741
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Geography is a broad and interesting subject, which incorporates the study of both natural and human environments, along with important environmental issues such as climate change, and how the impacts of these can be managed. If you're considering taking Geography at GCSE or A Level, this handy FAQ will hopefully help you to decide!

GCSE Geography
What sort of topics will I be studying?
The areas of study covered in GCSE Geography courses vary widely between exam boards, but you can expect to study a mixture of physical and human geography topics, such as:

  • Landforms and the processes which shape them, e.g. rivers, coasts, glaciers and volcanoes
  • Ecosystems, such as tropical rainforests, and the strategies used to manage them sustainably
  • Weather and climate, including climate change and extreme weather events such as hurricanes
  • Earth hazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis, and methods of reducing the risks they pose
  • Populations, including their growth, change and movement (migration)
  • Globalisation and its impacts on lifestyle, culture, retail and manufacturing around the world
  • Rural and urban environments and the different issues they face

How is it assessed?
Geography is assessed through a combination of exams and fieldwork, as follows:

AQA
  • 70% of total mark based on 2 x 1 hour 30 minute exams on physical and human geography topics, respectively
  • 30% of total mark based on a 1 hour 15 minute exam, based on issue evaluation, fieldwork and geographical skills


WJEC
  • 80% of total mark based on 2 x 1 hour 30 minute exams on physical and human geography topics, and environmental and development issues respectively
  • 20% of total mark based on a controlled assessment, consisting of fieldwork carried out on 2 separate occasions in contrasting environments, followed by a written report


OCR (specification A)
  • 60% of total mark based on 2 x 1 hour exams on geographical concepts relating to both the UK and the World
  • 40% of total mark based on a 1 hour 30 minute exam, assessing geographical skills and fieldwork undertaken


OCR (specification B)
  • 70% of total mark based on 2 x 1 hour 15 minute exams, based on physical and human geography topics, respectively
  • 30% of total mark based on a 1 hour 30 minute exam, assessing geographical skills and a decision making exercise

What is the fieldwork like?
The fieldwork that you’ll do ranges from one-day excursions to local areas, to week-long residential visits. Examples of locations you might go to include coal mines, beaches, woodland, and even places abroad such as Naples (where I went with my GCSE class). While you’re there, you may be expected to undertake an investigation into a geographical concept, such as tourism or coastal erosion processes, which will then be assessed through a report or exam.

What is the workload like?
The workload for GCSE Geography is reasonably high, as there is a lot of core theory to remember, plus a number of case studies which demonstrate how the theory comes into real-world scenarios. The fieldwork also makes up a significant part of the assessment, and is followed by a written report which requires a good amount of preparation.

What is Geography useful for post-GCSE?
GCSE Geography is useful (and sometimes necessary) for students who wish to study Geography further at A Level or university. It is also beneficial for students going on to study A Levels in related subjects like Geology and Environmental Science.


A Level Geography
What sort of topics will I be studying?
The topics studied in A Level Geography are very similar to those studied at GCSE (see above).

How is it assessed?
The assessment of A Level Geography varies slightly from GCSE, in that the exams are longer and more detail is required in the answers. The assessment for the main exam boards break down as:

AQA
  • 80% of total mark based on 2 x 2 hour 30 minute exams on physical and human geography topics, respectively
  • 20% of total mark based on a fieldwork investigation, assessed via a 3000-4000 word report

WJEC
  • 40% of total mark based on two exams which are 2 hours and 1 hour 30 minutes in length, on changing landscapes and changing places, respectively - these make up the AS component
  • 40% of total mark based on 2 x 2 hour exams, covering global systems and governance, and contemporary themes in geography, respectively - these make the first two parts of the A2 component
  • 20% of total mark based on an independent investigation, assessed via a 3000-4000 word report - this makes up the final A2 component

OCR
  • The AS component of the course is assessed by two exams, which are 1 hour 45 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes in length, on landscape and place (worth 55%), and geographical debates (1 optional topic; worth 45%), respectively
  • The A2 component of the course is assessed by 3 x 1 hour 30 minute exams, covering physical systems (22%), human interactions (22%) and geographical debates (36%)
  • The A2 component also involves an independent investigation, worth 20% of the total mark

What is the fieldwork like?
Like at GCSE, the fieldwork completed at A Level consists of both one or two-day trips to local areas, such as a river, coastline or nearby city, and longer trips which are residential, in the UK or abroad (for example, the French Alps, one of my A Level Geography trips). Fieldwork investigations at A Level go into more depth than at GCSE, and you’ll typically be required to write a report of approximately 3000-4000 thousand words to analyse and explain your findings, plus undertake an exam, or section of an exam, which will assess your geographical skills.

What is the workload like?
The workload for A Level Geography (in my experience) was very high, much more than my other subjects. There is a lot of information to retain, both core geographical theory and case study material, and since geography is an essay-based subject, you need to be able to incorporate your knowledge into essays which are detailed and contain relevant facts and figures. The fieldwork will also take several days to complete, which may take some time out of your holidays (but not too much, don’t worry!).

What is Geography useful for post-A Level?
A Level Geography, like Geology, is useful for a wide range of degree courses related to the environment, for example:
  • Geography (including human, physical and environmental geography)
  • Geology
  • Environmental science
  • Oceanography
  • Civil engineering
  • Hazards and disaster management

Its traditional and essay-based nature also means that Geography is relevant to other courses as well, such as:
  • Law
  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Archaeology
  • Sociology
  • Business
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