Choosing your A-Levels can be a stressful time. The fear of limiting yourself to a small career pool or picking something you won’t end up liking is very daunting for some pupils. This blog will give you the rundown of what A-Level Geography covers, what the exams are like and what you can do with an A-Level in Geography in the future.
* The information in this blog post concerning the exam format is applicable to the CCEA specification, however, there are lots of similarities across all of the exam boards across the UK.*
What is A-Level Geography all about?
Taking A-level geography in the UK is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. Not only will it help to develop skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, but it can also open up the possibility of pursuing a degree in Geography and many other subjects at university.
A-level Geography is an engaging and interesting subject that explores the physical, human and environmental Geography of the UK and beyond. It provides students with an understanding of how the world works and how human activities affect the environment. It also allows you to gain a greater appreciation of the diversity and complexity of the world around us.
Physical and Human Geography at A-Level
Similarly to GCSE, the A-Level course is split into Human and Physical Geography sections.
Physical geography looks at the formation of our world as we know it and involves studying the natural processes which create landforms.
Here are a few of the topics your school may choose to look at in the Physical Geography section of the course:
- Fluvial Environments (rivers)
- Tropical Ecosystems
- Oceans and Coastal Landforms
- Plate Tectonics
Human Geography is the study of how people interact with their physical environment, including the impact of human settlement patterns, the use of resources, and the implications of population growth and movement. It also examines the cultural and political dynamics of societies, including the effects of globalization, cultural diversity, and identity.
Topics that are studied at A-Level include:
- Settlement (or Planning for Sustainable Settlement)
- Cultural Geography
- Ethnic Diversity
It is important to note that your school or exam board may offer different topics. Usually, it is the decision of your school to decide which topics are undertaken. At AS, the exam board typically sets out the topics which should be taught whereas at A-Level here is a choice in which part of the specification your school should cover for the exam.
How is A-Level Geography taught?
A-Level Geography requires students to make connections between theory and real-life scenarios. Case studies are a key element of the subject and throughout the course, you will study up to 20 different ones. The precise statistics in the case studies allow students to build arguments in their answers and provide evidence to theories that they have learnt.
They are particularly important in Human Geography and this website provides lots of background information that will be helpful to the case studies that your school chooses.
How is A-Level Geography assessed?
Exam boards across the UK examine Geography through a series of exams. I have outlined the assessment carried out by CCEA below – a popular exam board for Northern Irish schools.
At AS-Level, three exams are taken. One assesses Physical Geography, one examines Human Geography and the third is a shorter exam which covers questions on fieldwork which would have been carried out on a school trip.
The exams are weighted to calculate your overall grade.
AS 1: Physical Geography – External exam 1 hour 15 mins, 40% of AS, 16% of A level
AS 2: Human Geography – External exam 1 hour 15 mins, 40% of AS, 16% of A level
AS 3: Fieldwork Skills and Techniques – External exam 1 hour, 20% of AS, 8% of A level
A2-Level is assessed again by 3 exams. The exams are longer but are divided into similar categories. Questions at this level require longer responses and are more open, allowing candidates to provide as much information as they think is applicable.
While 1.5 hours seems like a long time, in the grand scheme of things it is not. The amount of information that will be studied prior to these exams means that students will always have more than enough to write and the majority actually struggle to finish on time.
A2 1: Physical Processes, Landforms and Management – External exam 1 hour 30 mins, 24% of A level
A2 2: Processes and Issues in Human Geography – External exam 1 hour 30 mins, 24% of A level
A2 3: Decision-Making in Geography – External exam 1 hour 30 mins, 12% of A level
The third assessment is an examination of your decision-making skills. Within a short amount of time, you are challenged to read a series of articles, graphics and reports on a proposed project and write an answer detailing your opinion. You are tasked to back up your decision with evidence that has been provided and must write from the perspective of a given figure.
See these links for the assessment outline of the exam boards AQA and WJEC.
Why should I study A-Level Geography?
Studying A-Level Geography will provide you with key skills searched for by employers. Students gain an awareness of global issues and are tasked with being able to discuss ideas. The exams test skills on being able to write succinctly but in detail. Essay-based questions give an opportunity for students to display all that they have learnt from case studies.
Students will develop scientific skills by studying Geography. The importance of data recording and accuracy is studied and is applicable to many fields beyond high school. The interpretation of data through graphs and charts is equally important in the subject.
Geography A-Level can lead to many different degree options and careers. Taking a Geography degree at university does the exact same. A degree in the subject opens many different paths and is not as limiting as other degrees such as medicine or accounting.
Geography provides a broad starting point from which you can specialise. You do not have to take a Geography degree solely because you chose it for A-Level. For example, those that really enjoy the physical element of Geography could narrow down to Environmental Science at university. Students that really enjoyed studying settlement in the human aspect may opt for a Planning degree.
You might also decide that you don’t want to go to university at all and that is completely fine too! There are multiple apprenticeship programmes that you could apply for and utilise the skills that you are taught in A-Level Geography.
If you’re thinking about your long-term goals from studying Geography at A-Level, you might find this post interesting:
It discusses the advantages of taking a Geography degree and why it is also a broad and diverse qualification.
To sum up…
Taking Geography A-Level would be very beneficial to you and fits nicely with other science A-Level subjects. It is a very broad choice and will not limit your degree and career options. The skills you learn throughout the course can be applied to lots of different roles. The qualification is not particularly strenuous so long as you put in the work and effort required to obtain the marks. And remember…if you do choose to take A-Level Geography, The Geo Room is here to support you every step of the way!