Considering Geology GCSE or A Level? Read our FAQ here

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Geology is a fascinating subject which looks at the Earth, its formation, the materials it's made of and the processes acting upon it. If you're wondering whether a qualification in Geology is right for you, these questions and answers will hopefully help you to decide!

GCSE Geology
What sort of topics will I be studying and how is it assessed?
GCSE Geology is offered by WJEC, and it covers much more than just rocks! The course is divided into two main parts: the study of geological principles, and an investigation into the geology of an area, based on the interpretation of a geological map (both components are equally weighted at 50%).

The topics studied within the geological principles component include: minerals, the three major rock types (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic), their deformation (folding and faulting), the rock cycle, plate tectonics, global climate and sea level change, fossils, concepts in geological time, planetary geology (i.e. the Moon, other planets, comets and asteroids), geohazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis, natural resources, and the various applications of geology to engineering.

Assessment for the course also places strong emphasis on practical skills in geology. This includes the use of mathematics relevant to geological study, the interpretation of geological maps and geological histories, and the identification and description of minerals, rocks and fossils in hand specimen. At least 2 days of fieldwork must also be undertaken, during which you will identify and describe geological structures, minerals, rocks and fossils in the field.

What is it useful for post-GCSE?
GCSE Geology is useful preparation for A Level Geology, and overlaps with topics studied in both A Level Geography and Environmental Science. It is also an interesting and enjoyable subject in its own right, particularly for students who are interested in Earth and the other planets, their origin and evolution.

A Level Geology
How is it different to GCSE Geology?
A Level Geology goes into greater detail and builds on the topics studied at GCSE. However, it is designed so that students without prior knowledge of geology can also complete it successfully. The amount of fieldwork is greater (a minimum of 4 days rather than 2), and the creation of geological maps, as well as their interpretation, forms part of the assessment.

What sort of topics will I be studying and how is it assessed?
Though the subject content varies slightly between OCR and WJEC, there are several topics which are common to both specifications. You can expect to study minerals and rocks, Earth structure, plate tectonics, past life and climates, geohazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, and natural resources (e.g. water, coal, oil, natural gas and metals).

You will also gain and develop practical skills which are important in the study of geology, including the identification of rocks, minerals and fossils in hand specimen, the construction and interpretation of geological maps and cross-sections, and the interpretation of aerial photographs, diagrams and charts showing geological information.

As part of your assessment, you’ll be required to undertake at least 4 days of fieldwork. This will assess your ability to identify minerals, rocks and geological structures in the field, measure elements such as dips and strikes, and create an accurate geological map in an unfamiliar area.

What is the workload like?
The workload at A Level is moderate, but much less than that of Geography, for example. The most intensive aspect of the course is the fieldwork - you’ll need to be prepared to spend 8+ hours on several days out in the field, in all weather conditions from hot sun to rain and strong winds. As with all subjects, depending on your level of interest and ability, you may need to put in a bit more work to get the grades you want, but the variety of assessment methods means that even if you don’t do so well on the written exams, you will likely be able to make up for it during the practical assessments, and vice versa.

What is it useful for post-A Level?
An A Level in Geology provides good preparation for a wide range of degree courses specialising in Earth and the environment, including:
  • Geology (also called Earth science or geoscience)
  • Geophysics
  • Environmental science
  • Geography (including physical and environmental geography)
  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology
  • Civil engineering
  • Hazards and disaster management
  • Sustainability and environmental management
  • Combinations of the above

Because A Level Geology is considered a science subject (depending on the university!), it can also help meet the entry requirements for other courses such as biology, marine biology, zoology, plant science and chemistry.

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