A-Level Geography: 5 things successful students do

Studying A-Level Geography is truly fascinating. However, it's a very content-heavy subject with a lot of case study material to remember, which can overwhelm some students.  

I interviewed David Rendle, a former Geography teacher with 25 years of experience and an A-Level examiner, to get some insight into how A-Level Geography students can set themselves up for success. 

Read on to find out what David says are the 5 things successful A-Level Geography students do – and how you can do them too. 

You can also listen to the full conversation using the podcast player above or listen on The School Success Formula podcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

1. They manage their time well in A-Level Geography exams

Students who do well in exams use their time wisely. Here's how you can manage your time in Geography exams:

  • Practise exam questions throughout the year under timed conditions

This helps to develop a concise and accurate writing style. It also develops writing stamina that you need to successfully complete your exam paper. 

  • Work out the number of marks per minute that the exam paper offers, then allocate the appropriate amount of time for each question. 

Working out how much time you should spend on each question beforehand can be key to managing your time in the exam. And, if you don’t manage to finish a question in the allotted time, don't be tempted to carry on writing. Leave space and come back to it once you’ve finished the rest of the paper. 

  • Don't spend too much time on the low tariff questions. 

Examiners' comments have highlighted that successful A-Level Geography students don’t waste time on low tariff questions. Don’t use any more time than you allocate the question based on how many marks it’s worth.

If you know your stuff, you can quite often whizz through the low tariff questions quickly. You might even be able to spend less time on them than the number of marks per minute suggests. This will mean you have more time to spend on the higher tariff questions. 

Of course, this advice works for managing time in exams for other subjects as well, not just A-Level Geography. 

2. They write excellent A-Level Geography essays

Writing excellent essays means that you’re able to demonstrate to the examiner that you have good subject knowledge and you’re able to apply it critically to your case studies. 

Here are three ways you can improve your essays in an A-Level Geography exam:

Be really clear about what the question is asking of you

You need to understand what the examiner means when they use commands like: 

  • Evaluate
  • Justify
  • To what extent do you agree?
  • Assess the relative importance of…

David recommends making quick essay plans as part of your A-Level Geography revision. For example, you might write the title and create a two-column table, then jot down the points for one side of the argument in one column and the points for the other side of the argument in the other column. 

By doing this over and over for a number of essay titles, you’ll get an understanding of what each command is asking of you. 

David will be talking about this revision method in more detail in the How to Revise A-Level Geography masterclass, which you can sign up for here: How to Revise A-Level Geography Masterclass

Cherry-pick relevant parts of the case study to support your argument

Successful Geography students understand that they don’t need to write everything they’ve learned about a particular case study. Instead, they carefully select the bits of the case study that support their argument. 

Understand what the examiner is looking for

Examiners want to give you the marks. What you’ve got to do is make their life easy and show them exactly what they want to see.

A great way of doing this is to look at examiners' commentaries on candidates' answers and learn from what they’ve liked and what they’ve disliked about other students’ responses.

You can also practice planning and writing essays using the mark schemes from A-Level Geography past papers and get feedback from your teachers. This is an invaluable revision technique that’s covered in the Power Hour, which you can find out more about in this Power Hour blog post. There are also more in-depth resources about the Power Hour in The Extraordinaries Club.

David will be going into more depth about this in the masterclass. He’ll show you how you can really get into the mindset of the examiner and where marks are earned and lost.

3. They focus on what's important in the case studies

I remember learning case studies when I was at school studying Geography. I tried to learn every stat, every fact and every figure, and I spent way too much time on that. In the end, I was quite disappointed when I finished the exam because I hadn't been able to use all the information. 

Many A-Level Geography students have the exact same issue and find it very frustrating. 

How can you distil the vast amount of case study information into something more manageable?

The amount of case study material in the standard textbook is often quite a daunting, with lots of statistics and information to assimilate. Instead of memorising the whole thing, condense it into the information you need to write a top-grade answer. David’s advice is to get the key points of the case study onto one side of A4 paper – no more than one side and not using really small writing. 

Again, David will be going into this more in the masterclass. He’ll be offering some examples of templates that you can use to get down the key points you really need to know from the case studies.

Making case studies relevant to you

Another problem that students sometimes find is that the case studies are about places they’ve never been to before. It can be quite hard to visualise what the environment is like if you've never seen it for yourself.

You don’t need to book a flight and visit the area in person to make it meaningful though. Using Google Maps and Google Earth, you can figuratively fly to the exact location of the case study. Have a look at it from above, then use Street View to look around at ground level as well. This virtual field trip can help you become a bit more familiar with the location of the case study – and therefore make the details easier to remember as well. 

One of David’s previous tutees even created her own case study material from her own experience in her local area and her travels. These were much more relevant and interesting to her than the textbook case studies because she’d seen these places for herself. 

However, if you do create your own case studies, make sure they’re factual and not made up. The examiners are professional Geographers and will be interested enough to look something up if they’re not sure about it. 

4. They use A-Level Geography exam resources wisely

As David puts it, the examiner isn’t interested in wasting ink. Everything they put on the paper is meant to be useful to the student taking the exam.

When you see a command like ‘study figure four’ in an exam question,  don't just glance at figure four – interrogate it. 

Try and get every last bit of information from any resource you’re given. If it's a map, look for the north arrow, the scale and the key. Interpret every single item on that key.

It’s amazing how many marks you can earn just from extracting information from the resource in front of you. 

You can use the resources to spark ideas too. Sometimes just spending a moment to really interrogate the resource can get you thinking. It can enable you to make connections that will help you answer the current question. It might even give you clues that will help you answer other questions in the exam paper. 

It’s also important that you don't panic when faced with a resource in an exam, even if it’s nothing like anything you’ve seen before. The A-Level Geography curriculum teaches higher-order thinking skills; using the resources in exams is about applying the knowledge you’ve learned in the classroom to real-life matters. 

Spend some time really looking at the resource carefully and pulling out every single detail. By doing that, you’ll be able to make connections with the theory that you learned in class. 

5. They're real-world Geographers

Being a real-world Geographer means being aware of all the links and connections between different aspects of Geography in the real-world.

In examiners speak, it's called synopticity and it’s embedded in the assessment objectives across all the A-Level exam boards for Geography. 

Everything is related and interconnected. One set of factors cause another set of processes, and then those processes trigger something else, and so on. You can see a great example of this in the YouTube video, How Wolves Change Rivers

Whether you’ve travelled a lot or not, you can find connections between what you're learning in class and places that are real to you. You can make geographical connections with current events as well too; almost every news story has some element of Geography to it. Making these synoptic connections can help solidify your understanding and really bring your subject knowledge to life. 

Do you want more help with A-Level Geography revision? 

If you’d like to find out more about how you can become a successful A-Level Geography student, sign up for the How to Revise A-Level Geography Masterclass that David is running on Thursday 18th November 2021 at 7.00 pm.

In the masterclass, you’ll discover:

  • A useful revision prioritisation technique so that you focus on the areas which will earn you the most marks
  • How to cut down the volume of case study detail making it easier to remember
  • Quick essay planning techniques
  • Examples of excellent geography writing to emulate
  • Common mistakes examiners see and how to avoid them
  • Exam skills so that you answer the questions in front of you in the time you have available
  • And lots more…

Click here to find out more about the masterclass and sign up. 

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