GCSE History vs Geography: Which is harder and why?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

GCSE History and Geography are both popular subject choices in the UK. They are both humanities subjects, and lots of students will be advised to choose one of them as part of their GCSE choices. Either subject will make sure you have a well-rounded set of GCSEs, alongside the core Maths, English and Science subjects. However, it can be hard to choose which one to take. They both have pros and cons, in terms of things like content and exam style, so it’s not easy to tell which one is right for you. One common question people ask when making this decision is: which subject is easier, GCSE Geography or History?

Disclaimer: this article is just the opinion of one student. Keep in mind that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses which will affect how easy they find these two subjects.

This article will compare the two GCSEs, discussing why students may find certain parts of each subject easier. We’ll cover content, question styles, general student opinions and more!

Is the pass rate higher for GCSE History or Geography?

One of the simplest, most objective ways to decide which of GCSE History or Geography is easier is to look at the pass marks for each subject. These are different every year, and for each exam board.

However, to get a rough idea, the percentages needed for a pass (grade 4) and a ‘high grade’ (normally seen as a 7 or higher) are shown in the tables below for the most common exam boards.

% for a grade 4 AQA Edexcel A Edexcel B
History 34.5 42.9
Geography 38.5 43.8 45.3

 

% for a grade 7 AQA Edexcel A Edexcel B
History 54.8 69.0
Geography 59.9 65.2 69.1

Notes: You can find this information from exam board websites – the 2023 documents are linked here for AQA, and here for Edexcel. There are lots of history module options, each with slightly different pass marks, so an average has been given here for each exam board.

The overall trend here is that History has slightly lower grade boundaries, although there is not a huge difference. This might suggest that History is the easier subject.

However, you can also look at pass rates, which can be found on the FFT Education Datalab website: here for History and here for Geography GCSEs in 2023. Briefly, the pass rate for History was 64.4%, while the pass rate for Geography was 65.6%.

This suggests that even though you need more marks to pass in Geography, more people get these marks. But as you can see, there is very little difference in the pass rates, so this might not be the best way to work out the easier subject.

Is the content harder for GCSE History or Geography?

The next thing to discuss is the content of both subjects: what you are going to spend two or more years learning, and what you need to know for the exam.

History and Geography are both known as content-heavy subjects, meaning there is quite a lot you need to know compared to some other subjects. For example, practical subjects like Music and Drama have more of a focus on skills and coursework, with less information to memorise.

Of course, exactly what you will be memorising is different for History and Geography. There will be a lot of key dates of events to know in History, whereas in Geography, there is more key terminology.

Both subjects will involve learning statistics, for instance, the numbers of people killed or injured in a historical war, or a geographical natural disaster.

There are also plenty of concepts and logic to get your head around in each subject. You’ll need to understand why certain political decisions had the consequences they did in History, and the effects of certain social or cultural behaviours in Geography.

Personally, I found that Geography was a little more intuitive, and therefore easier to learn. For instance, in my megacity topic, it makes sense that bigger cities have more job opportunities, therefore attracting more people to move there, further increasing the size of the city.

However, I know friends who found History more logical! A lot of it depends on what you are interested in. It’s often easier to learn content you genuinely like, as it feels like less of a chore.

Is the exam organisation harder for GCSE History or Geography?

It’s the exams at the end of the course that will determine your actual grade, as there is no coursework in either GCSE History or Geography. For each subject, there is a different exam setup.

For Geography, for the main exam boards of AQA and Edexcel, you will sit three exams. Each will be 1 hour 30 minutes long.

For AQA History, you will sit two exams, each two hours long. However, for Edexcel, you sit 3 exams, each between 1 hour 15 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes.

This information can be found on official exam board websites – you can search for AQA subject specifications on their website here, and for Edexcel here.

There are pros and cons to each structure. I personally prefer having the content spread over more, shorter exams, as I could focus my revision more specifically before each exam. I also found it easier to keep my focus throughout the exam when they were for a shorter time.

In contrast, some people find it easier to get it done in two exams, and would prefer two hours while they are in the headspace of that subject rather than cutting it short and moving on to a different subject. Unfortunately, once again, it depends on personal preference!

Are the question styles harder for GCSE History or Geography?

Another thing to consider that comes hand-in-hand with exam structure is exam question styles, or the format of the exam paper itself. This is actually a key place where these two subjects differ.

In GCSE History exams, nearly all the questions you answer will be longer, essay-style questions. Some of them are shorter than others, and worth less marks, but they will still be questions that require you to write in full sentences and paragraphs, rather than quick one-line answers.

GCSE Geography has a much wider range of question styles. Some questions are still essay-style, worth 8 to 12 marks on average. But unlike History, it’s rare to have questions longer than this.

Instead, there will be plenty of shorter answer questions. These may be 4-mark questions asking you to explain a concept, or even multiple choice.

Questions in geography won’t always be asking a broad question. Some will want a very specific answer, like the definition of a key term, or be asking for you to analyse some data.

I personally found I was better at the specific, short-answer questions found in Geography. I found it easier to relate the more direct questions to the content we’d learned, and keep my answers focussed on the question.

I also found it easier to manage my time with shorter questions. In History, I would often spend too long on relatively short questions, and run out of time for longer essay questions worth more marks!

If you know your skills lie in essay-writing, however, you will almost certainly find GCSE History easier. Some people also prefer questions that are more open-ended, rather than mark schemes that look for specific marking points rather than the general quality of the answer.

Are certain exam boards harder than others for GCSE History or Geography?

Different exam boards may have different modules or course structures which some people might find easier. It’s worth noting, though, that the exam board you do usually doesn’t make a huge difference to students. It’s also something normally chosen by the school, so it’s not a decision you have to worry about making.

In the tables earlier in this article about pass marks, AQA has consistently lower marks needed to get certain grades in both History and Geography. This may suggest AQA is the easier exam board – but we haven’t taken into account things like the pass rate. Just because fewer marks are needed, doesn’t mean more students are actually getting these marks.

Additionally, we’ve talked a little about how some students find two exams easier than three, or vice versa. AQA and Edexcel have a different number of exams for History, so students may have a preference here.

Do students think GCSE History or Geography is harder?

We’ve covered most of the concrete comparisons between the two subjects, like exam structure and grade boundaries. But what lots of people want to know is whether students in general think GCSE History or Geography is harder.

This Think Student article ranks the 10 easiest GCSE subjects, based on a poll of student opinions. Geography makes the list at the 4th easiest subject, while History isn’t on the list at all. This would suggest that, generally speaking, students perceive Geography to be the easier subject.

I would agree with this, as I think Geography suited my personal preferences and strengths. But there isn’t a clear answer as to which subject is easier (as you may have guessed by now!), and I know friends who found History easier.

As we’ve discussed, your individual skills and what you find interesting will play a significant part in which subject you think is easier.

Should you do GCSE History or Geography?

Hopefully, this article has given you a good comparison of these two subjects, and knowing your personal academic strengths or weaknesses, you have an idea of which you will be better at. If you know you do well with essays, History is likely to be the easier choice, whereas if you prefer more direct, logical questions, Geography might be better suited.

Bear in mind that ease is not the only thing to consider when choosing your subjects. You can check out this Think Student article for a full guide to deciding on your GCSE options.

You’ll also have to think about things like your future plans. If you want to study something like politics in the future, History is closely related to this, so might be more useful. If you want to go into a scientific career, Geography is definitely the more scientific subject.

Most people don’t know what they want to do in the future when they are choosing their GCSEs – I definitely didn’t! Don’t worry too much about this – it’s just to say that if you do have an idea, this an be taken into account.

Another thing to consider is your other subject choices. If you have already chosen a lot of essay subjects, there are pros and cons to doing another like History. On one hand, the essay skills you learn will be transferrable – but you might want a more varied set of subjects.

Remember that doing both History and Geography is still an option in many schools. This is what I did, and I really enjoyed both subjects, even if I found Geography easier. They are both popular choices for a reason. I found the content interesting, and although some skills are used in both subjects, there is enough differences in them to keep your lessons varied.

You can have a look at this article from Stonebridge College for more discussion about whether to do GCSE History or Geography.

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