How hard is GCSE Geography?

In GCSE by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

GCSE Geography is one of the most popular non-mandatory GCSEs in the UK. You may know people who have studied or are currently studying GCSE Geography, you may be studying it yourself, or you might be wondering whether you should choose GCSE Geography as an option! One question many students ask about GCSEs before they choose their options is how difficult GCSEs are – so, how hard is GCSE Geography?

GCSE Geography, statistically, is quite a difficult GCSE subject. It had one of the lower pass rates for GCSEs in 2023, with a pass rate of 64.8%. Similarly, the most common grade bracket for GCSE Geography in 2023 was a grade 3, which is not a passing grade. However, in terms of the content and exams, GCSE Geography is not as hard as quantitative-data-based subjects like Maths and Science, which require a lot of practice and revision.

Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of a student who has personally studied and achieved a grade 9 in GCSE Geography, and it is mostly subjective. Your experience may be different to the one presented in this article and this article should act as a point of reference.

In this article I’ll be talking about everything related to GCSE Geography, so keep reading to find out how hard GCSE Geography really is!

Is GCSE Geography hard?

In my personal experience, GCSE Geography isn’t that hard compared to other GCSE subjects. However, I’m better at essay subjects compared to scientific subjects like Chemistry or Maths, so I personally found GCSE Geography easier than my other subjects.

If you also like writing essays and answering questions based on case studies, you’ll probably find GCSE Geography easier than other subjects. GCSE Geography is actually one of the most popular GCSE subjects, which you can read about in our other Think Student article.

A good thing about GCSE Geography is that you don’t need any background knowledge or practice in the subject, unlike GCSE subjects like PE and Music. Therefore, most people can do well in GCSE Geography with enough practice and revision!

Don’t worry if you find GCSE Geography hard. Everybody has different skills, so some people will find GCSE Geography easier than others.

Just because I find it easy doesn’t mean that you also will, or alternatively, you might find it even easier than I did! I would personally say that GCSE Geography is quite an easy GCSE.

How hard is it to get a 9 in GCSE Geography?

Naturally, it’s quite difficult to get a 9 in any GCSE subject. This is also the case for GCSE Geography.

Because GCSE Geography is a research-based subject (case studies, coursework, etc.), you will have to put in the work to get the results. To achieve a 9 in GCSE Geography, you’ll need to do your own independent work, outside of the content you’re taught in lessons.

Similarly, you’ll probably have to revise quite a lot. There will be lots of facts and figures you’ll need to use in your exam answers to get the top grade!

All this can sound daunting, but if you like the subject, it hopefully shouldn’t be too overwhelming. Getting a 9 is hard for GCSE Geography, but I also wouldn’t say it’s as hard as other Humanities subjects like GCSE Music or GCSE Art.

It will also depend on the exam boards you study under how hard a grade 9 is to achieve in GCSE Geography, since they all have different marking criteria. For information on the hardest and easiest exam boards at GCSE, check out this Think Student article.

What do you study for GCSE Geography?

There are four major exam boards in the UK: AQA, OCR, Edexcel, and WJEC Eduqas. These four exam boards have different specifications and set different content for students to study.

Depending on which exam board you study under, you’ll study different content to other students studying GCSE Geography! However, there are some overlapping themes.

GCSE Geography is split into two major themes: Physical Geography and Human Geography. Physical Geography is about the natural world – biomes, natural processes like erosion and the water cycles, and landforms.

Human Geography is about people – society, demographics, and man-made concepts like human rights. You will also have to complete fieldwork, which means going to rivers or lakes in your local area and putting the theory you learned about in lessons to the test!

For a look at the specific topics you’ll study at GCSE Geography, the AQA specification is linked here. The Edexcel specification can be found on this page of their website. Check out this page of the WJEC website for the Eduqas specification, and this link for the OCR specification.

What are the exams for GCSE Geography like?

GCSE Geography is usually split into 3 exams. As an example, for this section of the article I’ll be using the Edexcel specification, which is the specification I used for my GCSE. However, keep in mind that yours may be different.

The first exam is ‘The Physical Environment’, which as the name suggests is the Physical Geography paper. It makes up 37.5% of the qualification for 94 marks total.

The second exam is ‘The Human Environment’, which as the name suggests is the Human Geography paper. It also makes up 37.5% of the qualification for 94 marks total.

The third exam is ‘Geographical Investigations’, which is the fieldwork paper. It encompasses both Physical and Human Geography. It makes up 25% of the qualification for 64 marks total.

The three exams are each split into three components. These topics are further split down into sub-topics, which schools choose from. This is where subject content differs, as your school may choose different topics to other schools in the UK.

What are the hardest GCSEs to pass?

Below is a table of the pass rates for several common GCSE subjects in 2023:

GCSE Subject Pass rate
Maths 61.0%
English Language 64.2%
English Literature 73.9%
Combined Science 56.7%
Biology 89.3%
Chemistry 89.7%
Physics 90.0%
History 63.4%
Religious Studies 72.2%
Fine Art 78.3%
Business 66.8%
French 70.5%
Spanish 69.2%

All this data was taken from this page of the Ofqual website.

A pass at GCSE is a grade 4 or above (or a 4-4 for Combined Science). As you can see, GCSE Geography isn’t included in this table, because I’ll be talking about this later in the article.

You can see from the table that GCSE Combined Science, GCSE Maths, and GCSE English Language, are the three GCSEs with the lowest pass rates. Keep this in mind when we discuss the pass rate for GCSE Geography to see how they compare!

What is the pass rate for GCSE Geography?

I’ll be using data from this page of the Ofqual website for the data in this section of the article. The pass rate for GCSE Geography in 2023 was 64.8%.

The most common grade bracket for GCSE Geography in 2023 was a grade 3, which 15.7% of students achieved. This is not a pass, which is a grade 4. However, only 35.2% of students failed the GCSE, so it is more common to pass GCSE Geography than to fail.

24.5% of students, almost a quarter of all students who sat GCSE Geography in 2024, achieved a grade 7 or above. From these statistics it seems that many of the students who pass GCSE Geography go on to do well!

Based on the other pass rates listed earlier in the article, GCSE Geography was the fifth hardest GCSE to pass out of the 14 (including GCSE Geography) GCSEs listed. Therefore, it’s certainly one of the more difficult GCSEs to pass, despite almost a quarter of students achieving high grades!

If you’d like a list of the 10 hardest GCSE subjects ranked for 2024, I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article.

Which is harder: GCSE Geography or GCSE History?

I’ve personally studied both GCSE Geography and GCSE History and achieved a grade 9 in both. I would personally say, based on my experience, that GCSE History is harder than GCSE Geography.

Personally, I find GCSE History harder because it is mostly about objective fact and how you present these in an argument. However, GCSE Geography is less about how many facts you can recall, and more about your understanding of these facts and key concepts, which was easier for me to write on.

For example, I had to do a lot more revision for GCSE History because I needed to remember dates, names, events, and statistics. While I also needed to remember dates, places, and statistics for GCSE Geography, qualitative information was more significant in my exams than quantitative data, which was easier for me to write about.

Of course, you may actually find that you think GCSE Geography is easier than GCSE History! It all depends on how you work and what information is easier for you to process.

Is Geography GCSE worth it?

In my opinion, GCSE Geography is definitely worth it. I originally opted not to study it, but at the last minute changed my GCSE options and I’m so glad I did!

GCSE Geography is generally helpful for understanding how the world works. There were so many processes I knew existed but didn’t really think about how they worked until I studied them. GCSE Geography taught me facts and concepts I still use today!

There are also a lot of transferable skills involved in GCSE Geography, like essay writing, analysis, constructing an argument, and more. Not only could I transfer these between GCSEs but I could take them up to A-Levels and university as well.

If you’d like to check out the GCSE Geography subject content overview, you can view it on gov.uk.

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