Synoptic assessment

What is synoptic assessment?

To study a topic synoptically is to ‘afford a comprehensive mental view’, i.e. to consider all perspectives and factors contributing to the complexity of reality. Synoptic assessment, therefore, is ‘a form of assessment which tests candidates’ understanding of connections between different elements of a subject’.

How will the synoptic units have been taught to me?

Synoptic assessment is part of all A2 specifications. Your teachers may have integrated synoptic elements and themes, linked and inter-related topics in the studies and case studies that you’ve covered; or you may have been taught a range of synoptic issues as a discrete unit or section of work, probably near the end of your A2 course. There are advantages and disadvantages with either route.

What are the general areas that are relevant to my synoptic studies?

All geography specifications require knowledge, understanding and skills related to:

  • the fact that geographical processes all have multiple interactions
  • the fact that the environment needs to be stewarded to ensure a sustainable future
  • the fact that a geographic understanding helps and assists with decision making and planning, and can also assist with hazard prediction
  • the fact that governments, organisations and communities can determine geographical outcomes.

How do I ensure success in synoptic papers?

  • All questions will want you to demonstrate your understanding of geography in a discursive way. The definition of discursive, as used in the specifications, is: 'proceeding by reason and argument'. Therefore, you must ensure that your synoptic discussions have a clear focus and follow a thread. In other words, don’t allow your thoughts and ideas to wander too far from the thrust of the question that has been set.
  • Do remember that you may be required to apply your knowledge and understanding of the geography that you’ve been taught to unfamiliar situations.
  • Crucial to your success in answering questions on synoptic papers in general, and in the more unfamiliar situations outlined above, will be your ability to draw on a wide range of case studies. You would be expected to be aware of recent (i.e. during the period of your AS and A2 studies) and the more important of the familiar older/well-used studies.
  • As you prepare for the synoptic paper ensure that you have a range of studies that cover many scales, locations and stages of development.

How can I prepare synoptic issues for the examination?

Each issue in the synoptic section that follows in this book is set out in the same way. An outline of the issue, topic or problem is offered and then there is an amplification or a detailed case study offered in an attempt to address the issue. Each topic is then summarised. Possible general synoptic links are also established.

Just fifteen issues are covered here, they cover and reflect the most common denominators between the eight AS/A2 specifications. Those same eight specifications suggest some 108 issues that might be covered; you need to be aware of how the issues covered here fit into your specification and what additional issues/topics you need to cover.

In summary

  • The synoptic sections of all the specifications allow those who are well prepared to score freely and highly. Do remember that a good ‘score’ here could well determine your final grading.
  • You must know a range of geographical subject matter and be able to connect it all together.
  • Finally, don’t forget the importance of the human perspective in all the themes and issues you explore.
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