TSR Wiki > Study Help > Subjects and Revision > Subject Guides > Geology



Geology at a GCSE level is not very dissimilar from what is studied at A-Level and as a result school's and colleges may only teach one or the other. However, If both are tought then at GCSE the fundamental principles are layed down building on what was tought in lower years such as the simplistic differences of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

A Level

At A-Level more complex notions are incorporated into the subject such as foculation and mineral identification moving onto more in depth areas such as paleontology and sedimentology. Key terms will be introduced along with a large amount of field work if using the WEJC Specification Geology WJEC.

A brief introduction to taking Geology at AS and A2 level: Personally, I highly recommend taking geology at A level, not only because geology 'rocks' but it's also a rewarding and interesting subject to find out the history of the Earth. I took geology at AS and A2 level whilst at 6th form college using the OCR exam board so what I include may or may not be identical to other exam boards. The new specification came out in 2008 which enabled a brand new, concise text book to be published which is laid out extremely well and covers all the topics that may come up in the module exams. This means that you can still get a very good mark in the exam without the need to purchase many different books which were pretty outdated with the old specification pre 2008. The book is found in many local bookshops or bought at college using a student discount: OCR Geology (Exclusively endorsed by OCR for GCE Geology) AS & A2 by Armstrong and Mugglestone (2008). Also a geological dictionary can be a good investment too, especially for looking up unusual names of minerals that you are most likely to come accross through out the course.

Firstly, AS geology consists of 3 Units: Unit 1 = Tectonics - This is made up of 4 separate modules which are: Earth Structure Earthquakes Continental Drift, Sea Floor Spreading and Plate Tectonics Geological Structures

Unit 2 = Rocks - This is made up of 4 seperate modules which are: The Rock Cycle Igneous Processes and Products Sedimentary Processes and Products Metamorphic Processes and Products

Unit 3 = Practical Skills - This is made up of 1 module that tests your measurement and recording skills, it usually involves interpreting photographs so that you can draw them out to label the individual sedimentary structures, be that faults, folds or the textures of the rock to identify porphyritic textures (large crystals that have cooled at different temperatures to the surronding rocks) in igneous rocks or say oolitic or clastic textures in sedimentary rocks for example. You also have to do an Evaluative task, being able to draw graphs/histograms/ rose diagrams to adequately plot data that can be obtained by either practical experiment in the lab or from ield measurements which can be a laugh in good company on field trips, (we went to the Isle of Wight prior to our exam for example).

Secondly, A2 geology consists of 3 Units: Unit 4 = Environmental Geology (my personal fav cos im a bit of a petrol head) - This is made up of 4 separate modules: Water Supply Energy Resources Metallic Mineral Deposits Engineering Geology

Unit 5 = Evolution, Life and Climate - This is made up of 5 separate modules: Formation of Fossils Morphology of Fossils and Adaptation of Oragnisms to Live in Different Environments Fossil Evidence of Organisms and Mass Extinctions Dating Methods, correlation Methods and Geological Maps Changing Climate

Unit 6 = Practical Skills - This is on a very similar basis to Unit 3 of AS geology but it is obvs much harder and requires you to be far more techinal and accurate when identifying measurements to record and it involves 'interpreting maps for the centre based task which I personally found pretty tricky due to working out the correct cross cutting relationships or unconformities etc that really does test your previous knowledge of the course. The Evaluative task tests your skill at drawing and evaluating graphic logs, as well as evaluating fossil data. Remember to ask your teacher for additional practice on the practical sections before you sit the exam because it is worth getting confident with the equipment and not to be too put off by the complex maps or photos that may be used in the final exam.

Once you've completed the course, you know the score to download the free past papers and markschemes off the OCR website to make sure your competent at answering questions under strict time conditions to enable you to get the best marks possible. Finally, I hope this helps and I have many older past papers and revision notes that I managed to get from college for revision, if these can be of any help, feel free to send me a message!

Good Luck :)

International Baccalaureate


Scottish Standard Grade

Scottish Higher


The Course


Personal Statements

Study Help

Revision notes

Other Info


Also See

Geology is the study of every physical aspect of the earth. The subject is heavily rooted in the Physical Sciences, requiring knowledge of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology as well as the more qualitative techniques which are often related to studying Geography.

As well as Geology being the study of the solid earth, at degree level it will also incorporate the study and understanding of the earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere, although these are often studied as subjects in their own right when the level of detail increases beyond undergraduate level.

The History

Geology as a science has evolved extremely rapidly over the last two hundred years, and has regularly been completely turned on its head by the discovery of revolutionary theories that lead to the understanding of such as those of Charles Darwin (Evolution), Alfred Wegener (Plate Tectonics) Walter Alvarez (End-Cretaceous Meteor Impact) Arthur Holmes (Age of the Earth), Milutin Milankovitch (Ice Ages), Ben Peach & John Horne (Geological field mapping). The testament to the forward-thinking research undertaken by geologists at this time is shown by the fact that many of the major discoveries are frequently ridiculed, often not being widely accepted until after the scientists death.

During the late 18th Century, Britain and France were a hotbed of geological evolution. The early major division of thought was between the processes of Plutonism and Neptunism, debating whether the earths origin had been via it cooling from a molten mass (Plutonism), as seen with the product of volcanic eruptions or precipitation from a liquid brine of water, comparable to the formation of modern calcareous rocks (Neptunism). The first of these theories has stood the test of time and is now widely accepted as the method of planetary accretion that occurs within the universe.

The first geological map ever published was an independent effort by a canal engineer named William Smith, but despite the enormous amount of work he put in to produce his amazingly accurate map he remained unknown in the field for a long period after its publication in 1799 due to his map being stolen and reproduced by the nobles of the time. But, he was finally recognised for his work by the Geological Society of London in 1831.

The defining principle of geology is Uniformitarianism. This states that by viewing modern processes we can determine what happened in the past. James Hutton was the first geologist to publish this postulation with his paper "The Theory of the Earth", published in 1785 and has resulted in him being viewed as the first modern geologist.

Another major exponent of Plutonism was Sir Charles Lyell, whose book "Principles of Geology" was said to be the main inspiration to Darwin whilst on his voyage on The Beagle. He was also one of the major supporters of the occurrence of ice ages.

The main areas of research in this area were related to calculating the age of the earth, fossil taxonomy, especially relating to dinosaurs and the proposed theory of Ice Ages. These pitted the results of scientific research against the religious beliefs still accepted as gospel truth throughout Britain. The conflict between these factual evidence and that presented by the bible created a significant personal strife for many geologists of the time, for example Professor Reverend William Buckland of Oxford University who was so torn by this that it turned him mad.

Studying Geology


Geology degrees are offered at a high level at all red brick universities across the country, and a typical offer would be a mix of Bs and Cs for a Bachelor of Science course. This is also offered at Oxbridge, as a single subject (under the heading "Earth Sciences") at Oxford, and as part of the Natural Sciences course at Cambridge, where the expected offer would be all As.

Geology has a much friendlier environment than the majority of university subjects, and produces a great passion within those who study it. This is usually due to the bonding nature of field work that all undergraduate students are required to undertake, including an independent mapping project undertaken between the second and third years of the degree. As a result, they are also renowned for consuming remarkably large volumes of alcohol.

The main outlet of geological thinking on TSR is the TSR Geology Society so if you have any questions feel free to come along and ask!

Try Learn together, TSR's study area

revision notes




a study planner

of discussions

Which accompaniment is best?

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE