How to Get an A* in an A-Level Geography NEA

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An NEA is worth 20% of your overall grade in A-Level Geography. It may not seem like much at first, but that’s 1/5 of your qualification – so you definitely want to make sure it boosts your overall grade! As well as this, there will be hundreds of other students writing A-Level Geography coursework, so yours needs to stand out amongst the others. But, if you were like me, this might be the first time you’ve ever had to complete coursework for an A-Level. So how do you do well?

In this article, I’ll be taking you through (as a former A-Level Geography student) all the dos and don’ts for your geography NEA, and the advice you need to get an A*!

What is an A-Level Geography NEA?

The geography NEA is the mandatory coursework, that is a part of A-Level Geography. All UK exam boards require A-Level Geography students to produce an NEA. It is also referred to as an “Independent Investigation”.

For an NEA, you will choose a question related to physical or human geography, and then you will collect data to help you answer this question. Most NEAs are around 3,000- 4,000 words. They are essentially research papers!

For inspiration make sure you check out this Think Student article with 75+ NEA ideas!

How is an A-Level Geography NEA structured?

At the front of your geography NEA, you will have to attach a cover sheet provided by your exam board. This will usually have your name, candidate number, centre number, and your title question on it. It must be signed by you and your teachers.

An A-Level Geography NEA typically has around 7 sections:

  • Introduction to the investigation
  • Methodology/data collection
  • Data presentation, analysis, interpretation and evaluation
  • Evaluation of the investigation
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Exam boards are not too strict on formatting, however, so as long as you have all the major areas covered, you can format these how you like.

Your bibliography should contain all the references for any secondary material you used as part of your NEA. When you submit an NEA, you will be asked to declare that the work you have produced is 100% your own, and your NEA will be checked for plagiarism. Make sure to reference properly!

As for the rest of the NEA sections, I’ll be explaining them in more detail later in the article, so don’t worry!

How do you get an A* in an A-Level Geography NEA?

Getting an A* in your A-Level Geography NEA is not easy, but it’s definitely not impossible.

The UK exam boards will have their NEA criteria up on their website. NEA marking criteria is usually broken down into 4 “levels” (with level 1 being the least marks and level 4 being the most marks), for each section of the NEA.

To achieve an A* in an A-Level Geography NEA, you’ll need to meet the level 4 criteria in most if not all sections of your NEA.

As a former A-Level Geography student, below I’ll share with you my advice on how to achieve the top marks in your NEA.

The A-Level Geography NEA introduction

The introduction to your A-Level Geography NEA is one of the most important parts – it sets up the rest of your investigation and shows examiners why they should keep reading!

Your introduction will outline your argument and will vaguely demonstrate what you are going to say and why this is important. Remember, you don’t want to say too much, because you’ve got the rest of the NEA to write!

Your introduction should also link to your title question; how is your argument going to relate to and answer your question?

The key to a good geography NEA introduction is to be concise and keep it simple. You should ask yourself: ‘if someone who doesn’t do A-Level Geography read my introduction, would they know what I’m going to talk about?’

How to write an A* A-Level Geography NEA introduction

Your introduction should break down your purpose for the investigation. It isn’t like your typical essay introductions which are 100-200 words – your NEA introduction should be up to 500 words.

It could be helpful to break down your title question into three or four “key inquiry questions”, which you can answer throughout your NEA.

You should also explain your title question, why you chose it and how your research is useful in thinking about the future of the research your question tackles.

Your introduction is the opportunity to provide the examiner with details about your location; you could use maps (as these count as a form of data presentation), point out key geographical features, etc. You should give some local (relevant to your area) context and global context for the issue your question is answering.

To round off the introduction, include some basic geographical theory. For example, if your NEA investigation focuses on erosion, explain the different theories of erosion and how these apply to your investigation. This is an important demonstration of knowledge!

Remember, you can format your NEA however you like (within reason), so you can put this information in whichever order you like. Just make sure you cover all the key areas of your investigation!

The A-Level Geography NEA methodology

Your NEA methodology is a breakdown of how you collected the data you use and present in your coursework.

Your methodology will be one of the most detailed parts of your NEA. This may be surprising, but it’s because your methodology is used to show that your data is legitimate and collected properly.

A methodology is included in the majority of research papers, and your A-Level Geography NEA is no exception! Make sure you put time and care into writing your methodology properly, or it could undermine your investigation.

How do you write an A* methodology for an A-Level Geography NEA?

The way you physically present your methodology is up to you, but it should cover all the qualitative data (non-measurable data), and quantitative data (measurable/numerical data).

For example, I presented my methodology as a big table across 2 pages of my NEA. Definitely don’t underestimate the size of your methodology – it’s what verifies that your data is legitimate!

In your methodology, you should include:

  • The types of data you collected
  • Where you collected this data (collection points)
  • The equipment you used to collect your data
  • A description of the method
  • How often you collected data (intervals)
  • The sampling technique (stratified, systematic, etc.)
  • A justification for your method

As part of your methodology, you should also include what are called “ethical considerations” and a “risk assessment”.

Ethical considerations essentially means showing awareness of any ethical problems with your data collection methods. As an example, if you used a survey as a data collection, a problem with that may be that the participants’ privacy is not protected. Therefore, an ethical consideration would be to anonymise the survey.

A risk assessment is an awareness of the risks that are involved with data collection (such as getting lost, injured, weather events, etc.), and what you will do to prevent these risks. For example, having an emergency contact.

Data presentation, analysis, interpretation and evaluation in an A-Level Geography NEA

The data section of your NEA is the longest chunk and is worth the most marks. Now that you’ve set up your investigation, this is the section where you present all of your findings and interpret them, by explaining what they show and why.

Don’t panic if not all of the data you collected can be used – I certainly had a bunch of random data I didn’t need by the end! Try to use as much data as possible, and different types of data.

This section helps establish your argument; it’s essentially the evidence for your conclusion as well as just being the body of your NEA.

Since this is a long section, it’s helpful for you and your examiner to split it up into chunks using subheadings. It’s not a good idea to signpost, for example putting the subheading “Analysis”. Instead, you might divide up your data by the location, or the method you used to collect it.

How do you present data to get an A* in an A-Level Geography NEA?

Data presentation in a geography NEA is probably the most unique part of the process – you get to present your data however you want (in accordance with the exam board guidelines, of course)!

In the data presentation section, you need to display all the data you collected for your investigation. This can be in charts, graphs, tables, photos, and more.

The data needs to be readable, so your graphs should be labelled correctly, and your photos should have captions. If you’re using any data that isn’t yours, remember to reference it correctly.

It’s also a good chance to add a bit of colour, to make your A-Level Geography NEA look great!

How do you analyse and evaluate data to get an A* in an A-Level Geography NEA?

Your data analysis, interpretation, and evaluation section of your geography NEA is the most important section.

You should pick out key elements of the data and explain what they mean with regard to your NEA investigation question. How does the data you collected argue for/against your question?

Where applicable, it’s a good idea to calculate and explain medians, means, modes, and averages, to show that you aren’t just repeating what’s already in your presentation. You need to do something with the raw numbers, you definitely shouldn’t just relay your exact findings.

When you’re analysing, ask yourself the question: what does my data mean?

When you’re evaluating, ask yourself the question: how does my data answer my investigation?

By keeping these questions in mind when you’re interpreting your data, you can show the examiner that you can prove why your data is important and that you have a good understanding of analysis and evaluation.

Should you include statistical tests to get an A* in an A-Level Geography NEA?

The short answer to this question is: absolutely!

By now, you will have practiced a few statistical tests as part of the rest of A-Level Geography, such as Spearman’s Rank, the T-Test, Mann-Whitney U test, and standard deviation.

You should aim to use one or two stats tests when presenting the data, you collected for your geography NEA. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ stats test, so choose whichever is applicable for your data.

Statistical tests are a good demonstration of your analytical, interpretative and evaluative skills. By including a couple, you are showing the examiner that you have a clear knowledge of what the tests mean and why they’re useful!

If you struggle with the calculations, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Obviously other people can’t do it for you (remember that as part of submitting your geography NEA, you will have to testify that your work is entirely your own), but you can always ask to be shown how to do them!

Evaluating your A-Level Geography NEA investigation

Your A-Level Geography NEA investigation evaluation is slightly different to the evaluation of your data. In this section of your NEA, you should evaluate the success of the overall investigation.

You should discuss your locations and the methods you used to collect your data (both primary AND secondary data!). What was good about them? What wasn’t so good? If you had been somewhere else and used different methods, how might the outcome of your investigation have changed?

It’s also important to acknowledge the validity of your conclusions.

For example, you may not have had time or access to the correct resources to collect some really important data, that would’ve affected your outcome and potentially changed it. Showing an awareness of this helps build a more sophisticated and mature argument.

It’s important to note than an evaluation is not the same as a conclusion! You shouldn’t be summarising your research. Instead, explain the positives and negatives of your research choices.

The A-Level Geography NEA conclusion

Your conclusion is crucial because it ties together your methods, research, and analysis. Remember those “key inquiry questions” I mentioned earlier? Well now is the time to answer them!

Your NEA conclusion will answer your title question and provide the examiner with a neat, rounded summary of your investigation. By reading the conclusion, someone should be able to know the key parts of your argument and why they are important.

A conclusion is also a place to propose solutions – what can we do in future that we aren’t doing now? How might future events like climate change impact your research?

If there are relevant questions that could impact the outcome of your investigation, but you don’t have time to consider them in detail, put them in your conclusion. This shows the examiner that you have an awareness of micro- and macro-scale issues!

How do you write an A* A-Level Geography NEA conclusion?

Like most essay conclusions, your geography NEA conclusion will summarise your main arguments, what you found, and what your data means. It can also be a good place to ask any of the questions you still don’t have answers to.

You could start by going through your inquiry questions and writing “sub-conclusions” in response to them. Then, you should move on to the big conclusion: answering your title question.

In your conclusion, you should highlight the key things you found as a result of your research, broadly and specifically. Showing consideration to the “big” and “small” issues is good for showing your critical thinking skills!

Your conclusion should be about the same length as your introduction, give or take. If you start running out of things to say, don’t add things unnecessarily to fill the word count – your conclusion should be the most clear and concise part of your NEA.

Examples of A-Level Geography NEAs

Most, if not all, exam boards will have an “exemplar” coursework on their website. For example, I’ve linked the OCR exemplar coursework for you here, so check your exam board website for their exemplar!

The exemplar coursework is written and submitted by a real student, but it’s important to follow the mark scheme, not just copying someone else’s coursework. Your NEA will be checked for plagiarism!

Similarly, most schools keep exemplar coursework from each year, so if you need some inspiration, ask your teachers for the coursework they have.

If you’re struggling for ideas of what to write on for your Geography NEA, check out this Think Student article with 75+ ideas!

*To learn more about the A-Level Geography NEA, check out the specifications from the main exam boards, AQA, Pearson Edexcel and OCR by clicking on their respective links.

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