Exam Technique

Links from GCSE

In order to study A-Level Geography it is of course desirable that you have studied Geography to GCSE Level. But it is emphatically not a requirement, though of course it helps! It is true that some topics covered at A-Level do develop ideas first encountered at GCSE, but many study areas are new and others develop ideas in new or different way. You will therefore not be at a disadvantage if you are new to the subject.

It is likely that your teachers will be looking for students that have an interest in the environment and the world around them, and want to follow a subject that is relevant to their own situation and life. Students who are willing to explore ideas in an enquiring and lively way, and who can pass on and communicate findings and ideas effectively, are most likely to get the most out of Geography, and this text!

What are examiners looking for?

All questions of whatever type seek to assess your appreciation and attitude to ‘content’, that is content, be it physical, human or regional in nature, of the specification you are involved with. There are certain common qualities that all boards look for in candidates.

  • A knowledge of facts, basic vocabulary, geographical concepts, processes and theories.
  • An ability to use information in an organised way, supported by appropriate case studies and examples.
  • The appreciation that all geography content is dynamic.
  • A range of skills understood and used in a range of geographical contexts.
  • An ability to comment and evaluate world issues and problems is paramount. Quality of English is now integrated into the marking of papers. You must be clear and accurate in your use of English (i.e. spellings like desert, erosion and vegetation must be correct).

Some do's and don'ts

Examiners then, are trying to assess the degree to which you can demonstrate as many of the qualities listed above as possible. Common problems encountered by examiners when they are marking examination work include (and these are the areas that you need to avoid!):

  • Candidates spending too much time on one question or a part of a question.
  • Candidates who let words like coast or river trigger an ‘all I know’ type of response, avoiding the focus of the question.
  • Candidates who over-learn favourite topics in the hope they will appear in the examination.
  • Candidates who don’t plan answers, whether they are in response to extended writing questions or structured questions. Quick simple plans are a must, rewriting the essay title on your answer sheet can also help.
  • Candidates who fail to respond to command words. Don’t describe if it says explain; more of this later.
  • Candidates who attempt questions that lead to the snake pit: if you don’t

    understand plastic deformation (glaciation), flocculation (soils) or frontogenesis

    (atmosphere) avoid these questions!
  • Candidates who don’t respond to the vocabulary in the question, i.e. channels are different to valleys, glaciation is different to peri-glaciation, environmental hazards could mean pollution and/or biological and/or geomorphologic hazards, weathering is different to erosion, and so on...
  • Candidates who have a limited reserve of case studies to draw upon. And those that choose case studies that obscure rather than illustrate points.
  • Candidates who seem to be unaware of the ploys to reach the highest level or tier in a question.
  • Candidates who fail to read the rubric of the examination, or fail to organise their time effectively enough over the whole examination. These candidates invariably show all the signs of panicking, i.e. questions unfinished and poor quality of language, uncorrected grammatical and spelling errors and major and avoidable omissions. It is important to re-read your completed examination!
  • Candidates who have no real knowledge of their specification and how knowledge, understanding and skills fit each module/paper that they sit. Failure to practice past papers is also very obvious.
  • Candidates who don’t seek out and outline inter-relationships.
  • Candidates who don’t ‘give’ requested information, i.e. A named area within a city.
  • Candidates who don’t offer supporting diagrams and sketches.
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