9 Tips to help you get a 9 in GCSE Geography

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Geography is a popular subject for many students when choosing their GCSEs. (You can see how popular in this Think Student article). It’s a great subject, known for including aspects of both science and humanities subjects. Some people really enjoy this, but it can also make things like knowing how to revise more difficult. Should you work on your essay skills or data interpretation questions? And if you are aiming for a top grade, this doesn’t just start at the revision stage. You also have to think about making the most of lessons as you go through the course, as well as preparing your exam technique for the day itself.

As someone who has done GCSE Geography themselves, and achieved a grade 9, this article contains my best advice from experience, and some of the top tips I received from others, when it comes to this subject!

What do you need to do to get a 9 in GCSE Geography?

As with all exams and subjects, doing well in GCSE Geography is going to require more than cramming the night before the exams. There are lots of stages involved in a GCSE course, and this article is going to go through them one by one, with tips for each.

Firstly, we’ll think about what to do while you are still learning the course, whether that be in lessons or outside them. Next up comes the revision stage, and finally, the exam itself.

Tips for the GCSE Geography course

If you are aiming for a grade 9 in GCSE Geography, the work begins long before exam season. You’ll normally spend 2 years (Year 10 and 11) learning the content for your GCSE, and there’s plenty to do during this time.

This section covers some top tips for you as you go through the course – even if you’re halfway or most of the way through, they’ll still be relevant.

1. Make use of the available resources

Nowadays, there are a huge number of resources available for common exams like GCSEs. There’s plenty of websites, both free and paid, that offer revision notes and practice questions.

There’s also still the more traditional resources of textbooks and class notes. It can be hard to know which resources are the best to use when you are learning the course content.

Generally speaking, my advice would be to try plenty of different resources to see what works best for you. Everyone has a different way of learning.

For instance, some people really like textbooks because they are specific to your course and exam board, and contain everything you need to know. Other people hate reading information from a textbook and much prefer things like watching a video to explain a subject.

Trying out different resources as you go through the course means that once it comes to exam season, you know where to look. It also helps consolidate learning as you go along – for instance, if you are looking at the textbook chapter after a lesson on that subject.

This will make revision a lot easier when the time comes!

What are the best GCSE Geography resources?

There are a couple of resources I’d definitely recommend. The first is anything from your lessons in school: notes you’ve made, slides the teachers have sent out, homework sheets, and so on.

These are often overlooked by students looking for the best GCSE resources – don’t make this mistake! They will cover everything you need to know.

Similarly, don’t forget that you can always ask your teacher to explain something you don’t understand. They are a great resource, there to help you.

For Geography-specific online resources, BBC Bitesize, linked here, has great GCSE Geography revision guides, arranged by exam board. In terms of textbooks, look for the ones that say ‘approved’ or ‘endorsed’ by the exam board.

For instance, this textbook (linked on Amazon) is the one I used for GCSE, doing the Edexcel B exam board. However, remember that you shouldn’t need to buy new, expensive textbooks for GCSEs. Your school will likely have copies to borrow, and if they don’t, you can ask your school library to order a copy.

If you like writing in your textbooks, you obviously can’t do this with a library book. Instead, look online for second-hand copies to buy, or see if a friend a couple years older who did GCSE Geography has a textbook they would be willing to pass onto you.

2. Create flashcards for key terminology

If you’re midway through the GCSE Geography course, you’ll likely have noticed that there’s a lot of key terms to learn. Whether it’s buzzwords about plate tectonics or mega-cities, knowing the terminology is really important for success in Geography.  

Most people agree that the best way to learn key terms is through flashcards. My top tip would be to make these flashcards as you go through the course, either once you finish a small topic, or even lesson-by-lesson.

You can work through the flashcards straight after making them, then once a week, for example. Learning them by spaced repetition is a great way to make sure the words stay in your long-term memory.

This also means that when it comes to revise, you have the flashcards ready to go!

This document from AQA has a list of important GCSE geography terms, which might be a good place to start if you are looking to make flashcards, as well as you class notes from the lessons themselves.

3. Pay attention to the fieldwork

Geography GCSE doesn’t have coursework – it used to, but the ways most GCSEs work was changed in 2016, so they are now linear qualifications. This means your grade is entirely based on exams taken at the end of the course.

However, you do still have to do some compulsory fieldwork for Geography. This will involve two separate trips, normally one each focussed on physical and human geography.

If they haven’t already, your school will tell you what you need to know and do for this section, just as they would any other module. Otherwise, you can get an idea of what to expect on this page from BBC Bitesize.

However, this tip is just to recommend paying attention to the fieldwork, even though it isn’t traditional content you learn. It’s a great way to consolidate what you’ve been learning in lessons – and more fun than sitting at a desk!

The work you do after fieldwork, analysing your results, is also really good practice for data analysis and inference questions in the exam. This might not be something you practice as much otherwise , but is a really useful skill.

Tips for GCSE Geography revision

Once you’ve learned the content, the next stage is revision. In fact, you will normally start revising for your real GCSEs a couple of months before the exams, which might be before you’ve covered everything. Check out this Think Student article for more on when to start revising for GCSEs.

Revision often causes quite a bit of stress for students, as it can feel like there’s too much to learn and not enough time. Keep reading for some top tips for geography to help you through revision season.

4. Use past papers

Past papers are the number one revision technique I’d normally recommend, and geography is no exception. This article from Think Student has some of the best general revision techniques for any exam.

It’s best to do them timed and in one sitting, then mark them and go through your answers. This makes sure you know what to expect on exam day, and can see exactly what level you are currently working at.

Past papers are available for free on exam board websites. There are often more available than you have time to do, given that you are revising for around 9 GCSE subjects at the same time.

For geography, students often find that they want more practice on the long-answer questions (usually 8 marks or more). It’s useful to plan or write the long answer questions from the past papers, even if you don’t have time to do a full one.

You can still time yourself, and check your work against the mark scheme, or even see if a teacher would mark it for you. You get more practice at one of the trickiest question styles in geography, and make the most efficient use of all those past papers.

5. Go through the specification points

Specifications are often underappreciated by students – they are a full list of everything you could be asked about in an exam. Specifications are available on exam board websites – the most common ones are AQA, linked here, Edexcel A, here, and Edexcel B, here.

I found that the most helpful way to use specifications was as a revision checklist. Tick off points on it as you revise them, and highlight areas you aren’t so sure of. Hopefully, by the time you get to the exam, you’ll have a tick by every section!

6. Make sure you know your case studies

Case studies are a really important part of GCSE Geography, no matter the exam board. Whether its natural disasters or mega-cities, you’ll study a particular example in depth in lessons.

You’ll then be expected to know key facts and figures about these cases, as well as be able to analyse them. They can be easy to forget about when revising, because they change a lot between schools, so online resources may not have the ones you’ve studied in class.

Stick to the ones you’ve been taught, but make sure you know them well. This doesn’t mean memorising every detail – but having a few key statistics in your head is really important if you want top marks.

Tips for GCSE Geography exams

Finally, what this has all been leading up to: the days of the exams themselves. This article from Think Student has lots of useful exam technique hints and tricks, but keep reading for a guide to some of the most relevant for GCSE Geography.

7. Keep an eye on the clock

Time management is important in any exam, and this Think Student article has some more advice on it. Geography is a time-pressured exam, and many students find keeping the pace right particularly difficult because of the mix of short and long answer questions.

There will likely be some tricky 4-mark questions in your Geography GCSE papers, and it’s easy to spend lots of time on these. However, you don’t want to be left with only 5 minutes for a whole 8-mark question.

Keep an eye on the clock, and if you realise you are spending too much time on one question, move on. You can always come back to it later if there’s time.

That being said, it’s still worth planning your long answer questions, even if you are short on time. A 5 minute plan will make it easier to write a good answer, and possibly even quicker as well, because you don’t have to come up with the ideas and structure as you write.

8. Know what topics to expect

You won’t have to answer questions about every topic in every exam paper. It’s useful to know before you go into an exam what content is actually in the paper you are about to sit. It’s not hugely helpful to be recapping your river notes if you are about to sit a human geography exam!

The organisation of subject content into the exam papers is available on the specifications linked above. Depending on your exam board, you’ll have it arranged by physical geography, human geography, and a synoptic/general skills paper – or by global, UK and people/environmental geography.

9. Look for command words in the questions

‘Read the question’ is common advice for an exam, but for Geography GCSE in particular, questions will often use specific command words that give you a hint about what your answer should contain. It’s really important to read these to make sure that you are actually answering the question, not just writing what you know about the topic in general.

For instance, ‘describe’ and ‘explain’ sound similar, say in a question asking you about a trend shown in a graph. However, ‘describe’ just means write what the trend is, while ‘explain’ means write about why you see this trend.

This resource from AQA has a complete guide to GCSE Geography command words. You don’t need to memorise the information here, but it might be useful to glance through it to get an idea for the main command words and what they mean.

Hopefully, this article has given you a guide to some of the best tips and tricks for GCSE Geography. Best of luck with the course and exams, and keep aiming for those top grades!

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