How hard is it to get a 9 in GCSE Geography?
Geography is often misperceived as an “easier”, less academic subject.
I think one of the main reasons for this is that it is an interdisciplinary subject. Geography touches on lots of different subject areas (science, economics, politics, sociology etc.) so the depth on knowledge required in each aspect is not to the same level as if you were studying each component subject individually.
However, beware of complacency. There are two big areas where even the most gifted students fall down in their attempts to get a level 9:
- Exam technique – Geography questions have a very specific style and set of examiner expectations, all of which vary slightly depending on the exam board you are doing. Therefore, it is important to get familiar with (and practice!) all of the Geography question types, which will be unlike your other subjects.
- Willingness to go the extra mile – reading and regurgitating the textbook will not get you a level 9 grade. You will need to go beyond the textbook and demonstrate independent study, through further research and application of Geography case studies, keywords and theories.
Recent GCSE Geography results
30.8% of Geography students scored level 7 or higher in 2022 in GCSE Geography (All boards) – JCQ report
Where can I find GCSE Geography past papers?
You can access papers from your exam board’s website. If you don’t know the exam board, double check with your teacher. Links to the most common exam boards for GCSE Geography are provided below.
What are the best ways to revise for GCSE Geography?
- Use the specification as a revision checklist. Print it out, and go through each topic line-by-line with a highlighter. You can use a traffic light system to work out what you know well and what you know less well. If you don’t understand a concept, or don’t have sufficient notes on it, there is work to be done!
- Two types of notes. The first type, which I call the “raw” notes, is the accumulation of all your written work from school and the various print-outs and resources your teacher has provided you with. From experience, this is usually a huge, unwieldy mess (unless you are super organised!) Your first task is to convert this mass of notes into something memorisable i.e. your revision notes. For these notes, go by personal preference, but I highly recommend something visual and handwritten (at the very least, printed out) e.g. mind maps and/or cue cards. Use acronyms and fun, silly images to remember concepts. The sillier they are, the easier they are to remember, and it makes revision slightly less tedious! Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that if you stare at a word document for long enough, the information will be committed to memory. Write your revision notes out multiple times, and test yourself. Keep adding level 9 details (more on that shortly) as you get closer to the date of your exam.
- Go above and beyond the textbook. The textbook is great for learning concepts, theories, most of the keywords, and the case study essentials. However, if you want a level 9, you will have to familiarise yourself with level 9 details, which must be incorporated into your written work, especially on the high tariff questions. Here are some examples of level 9 details:
Extra case study details (the more precise the better) e.g. statistics, named organisations, dates, quotes, different perspectives on the same issue. Do some online research to find these details. Try to use reputable news sources. Relevant YouTube videos and podcasts can be helpful as well.
Advanced keywords (look online to the A-level equivalent of your topic for inspiration).
Geography theory – can you incorporate a relevant piece of theory into your answers? e.g. “the Burgess model”, when completing a question on settlement structure.
- Timed past paper practice. Use the available papers online for your syllabus. When you exhaust those, work with your teacher or tutor to come up with additional questions.
GCSE Geography question types to expect, and how to prepare for each
1. Data interpretation (numeric skills, graph reading, data tables)
Tip: be careful, practice lots, look for where the paper might be trying to catch you out.
Beware: Students have a tendency to rush these questions. You could drop easy marks if you do so.
These are often 2 markers e.g. “explain the process of X”.
Tip: You need to give a developed definition for the second mark. This might mean expanding your initial definition or providing an example.
3. Explain the formation of X landform
Tip: Write in full sentences, but think of the formation as a step-by-step process. A good rule of thumb is 5 steps but this will vary depending on the landform and the number of marks available.
Note: Diagrams can be helpful but they must be clear and accompanied with extensive annotations.
4. High tariff questions (essay-style)
The question command words are typically: assess, examine, how far do you agree etc.
Tip: You need to provide a balanced perspective on a Geographic issue. This means considering both sides of a Geographical debate.
Note: case study evidence is essential, and you will need to go the extra mile with additional details that the average student won’t have learned if you want a level 9. This goes back to my earlier point about further reading/research.
Positive Marking in GCSE Geography
Geography exams are marked with “positive marking” criteria. Marks for incorrect information are not deductible. This means that you cannot be penalised for adding too much detail on a question, even if you’re not 100% sure it’s correct. The worst that can happen is that you don’t pick up a mark. So if you’re feeling stuck on a question, write more than you think you need to, while staying within the time limit!
GCSE Geography Examiner reports and recommendations
The findings vary slightly by syllabus, though much of the guidance and general principles apply to all of the exam boards. Some of the key messages are outlined below:
- Place-specific knowledge was lacking in a large proportion of scripts and understanding was frequently superficial and lacked geographical detail. (AQA)
- Learn geographical terms and be confident in using them correctly (CIE).
- Have a wide range of case studies and choose them with care to fit the questions selected, including relevant place specific information. Do not include over lengthy and irrelevant introductions to any question (CIE).
- Use comparative words to make contrasts or describe differences when required (CIE).
- In general, the assessment of application and interpretation and the addressing of the ‘evaluate’ command word once again seem to have proven challenging for a significant proportion of candidates. (Edexcel)
From my perspective as a tutor, all of the above are challenges that recur every year with students across all exam boards.
GCSE Geography Tuition
With tutors based in London and available online to families around the world, Keystone is one of the UK’s leading private tutoring organisations. Find out more about our GCSE Geography Tutors and iGCSE Geography Tutors.