When you reach the age of about fifteen, every year at secondary school seems to be split into two halves: the first, in which you are taught something, and the second, in which you are taken over it again. The second we call ‘revision’, a name which is probably fair, but which implies you’ve already learnt the thing that you are re-studying.
We all know that this isn’t exactly true, as, at the start of the year, your exams feel far enough away to be hardly worth thinking about. So, like the rest of the students in your classroom, you don’t really take it all in, but rather bank – often correctly – that you are going to cover it again later in the year.
At GCSE, this might immediately seem like the correct approach; by A Level, you should probably know a little better! Revising shouldn’t be learning from scratch, but merely filling the gaps in your knowledge and making sure everything sticks in your brain. It’s a lot less stressful this way.
Any geographer or student of geography has heard that hilarious joke at least a hundred times: ‘geography’s just colouring in’. It isn’t, and, really, it’s quite unclear where this silliness came from.
No matter what the haters say then, geography is a huge and hugely important discipline that blends public policy on everything from homelessness to migration with scientific models of tectonic plates, climate change, and rivers. Everything that happens in the world is geography: its remit, the interaction of people and the earth, covers just about everything you can think of. It is, at the same time, a social science, a true science, and a humanities subject. Apologies for labouring the point, but this sounds like a little more than ‘colouring in’.
So, whilst you might prefer physical geography over human geography, or the other way around, there is definitely going to be something between economics, chemistry, geology, and politics – all of which take part in geography – that you like. When revising, focus on this, because enthusiasm for a subject is the only fool-proof, watertight way to ensure that you actually study it.
If you don’t have this, however, all is not lost! Here, we have compiled some of the most important things to consider when revising for your geography course or preparing for your exam.
This is geography – just a little more interesting than that you study for your A Levels.
The first point is one of those things that should go without saying, but that probably, in reality, doesn’t. As we mentioned above, revising is only half the battle (the clue’s in the name re-vising), and it is certainly the most stressful half. Surely any revision method is good that reduces that stress as much as possible?
Good, then we’re agreed. So, the best way to start revising is really to start from the very beginning: the less you are actually learning (unless this stuff is right-on, cutting edge, and over and above the content of your course) and the more you are just remembering, checking over, or reconsidering, the better.
We all know that person who takes their notes in class on a bit of scruffy paper, which they then either lose or which they stuff into a folder full of similar notes on all their other subjects. Usually, when this person gets to the point at which they are supposed to be revising, the stuff they have studied and written down is all completely incomprehensible.
Don’t be like this. It’s not nerdy or loserish to concentrate in class, nor is it a sign that you’re uncool that you actually have handwriting that is legible (by the time that the exam comes around, you’ll have gained the perspective to recognise this).
Instead, take notes – and keep those notes in order – do your homework, and contribute to the lessons. You might even enjoy it!
Geography revision is not a solo sport – nor should you do it whilst sat on a roof…
If you don’t want to do this – or if it’s in fact too late in the day to do it – your best options to ensure you nail those A Level or GCSE exams are these three crucial resources: textbooks, a whole raft of online resources, and your friends.
Whatever course you are studying – whether it be from Edexcel, OCR, AQA, or the Scottish SQA – you will find the required textbooks. Really, your school should provide you with these. If not, you can find them in your local library, or you can buy them yourself. These are designed to be as engaging, comprehensive, and clear as possible, covering the main themes of the exam and giving you guidance on key skills for answering questions.
Mind, though, that revising by exclusively reading your textbook will not have you achieving the highest grades. This is why they also encourage you to do your own research.
Online revision resources can help with this, and they provide some fun, interactive elements that are missing from textbooks. Websites like BBC Bitesize and S-Cool – suitable for both A Level students and GCSE – have nice little quizzes with which you can test how well the fundamental knowledge has stuck, whilst A Level Geography (it’s literally called that) and RevisionWorld both have good information packs for both levels. It’s a really great move to use lots of different modes of study, to keep things fresh for you.
You might not necessarily think of your friends as a revision resource – and, honestly, it’s probably best that you don’t. But working with your mates is something that should absolutely be encouraged.
No-one says revision should be conducted alone – and having people around who are doing the same things brings benefits. If you don’t know something, maybe they do; if you are struggling with a concept, maybe they can explain it to you better than a textbook can; if you have both done a bit of research, you can share your different findings.
And, importantly, studying with friends makes the whole process much more enjoyable, and this is something that really needs to be achieved.
But geography isn’t all about the knowledge that you collect – the facts you learn, the statistics you find, the texts you have read. Rather, a really crucial part of the assessment framework – for both GCSE students and for students of A Level geography – is these things we call geographical skills.
These are things like being able to read maps: what contour lines are, how to locate yourself and other geographic features, and what the main features of a landscape might be.
It also refers to the skills that are required for reading diagrams accurately – taking data from a chart, for example – and identifying the key features of images. As you’ll see below, these are all things tested in the geography exam.
How do you develop these skills? The most obvious response to this is to look at a map. What do these things show, and what information is included in them? Why are these important in the world today, and what do they actually tell us about our world? These are the questions you need to ask yourself when looking at them.
Past papers are the cornerstone of any revision programme, and if you have not made space for them in your timetable, then more fool you.
Using past papers is the most authoritative way to test the knowledge that you have – and the appropriateness and relevance of that knowledge. Used in conjunction with the mark scheme – which will be available on your exam board’s website along with the past papers – they can show you the gaps in your knowledge as well as the bits that you solidly know.
Use them from the very beginning of your revision, to keep track of progress and to reassure yourself that you are getting there.
Another thing they offer is a chance to hone your exam technique. These days, we all write on the computer and phone – and the pace of our writing on these technologies is usually very high. Actual, old-fashioned handwriting though is a different story altogether and, as part of your exam technique is making sure you finish the paper, it is essential that you practise writing quickly by hand.
Finally, past papers show you the sort of questions you should expect from the exam. The phrasing of the questions, the type of answers that the examiners are expecting, and the sorts of skills they are testing. As your exam paper – whether GCSE or A Level – will include questions on diagrams, maps, and images, you should practise these over and over, as often they will not require any external knowledge whatsoever. (As you have been reading maps though, you should be absolutely fine with this.)
And remember, alongside the past papers and the mark schemes, you’ll find the course specification – which shows you precisely the topics, themes, and ideas that you will be tested on – and the previous years’ examiner’s reports. These often tell you the pitfalls of previous students – so pay attention to these too!
We said above that textbooks aren’t sufficient to get you to achieve the highest grades. They are great, but not everything.
You will, instead, be expected to read around the topics that you are covering in your course – especially if you are an A Level student. This shows the examiner that you are able to apply to new things the knowledge and skills that you have learned in class. For A Level students, you can find some handy tips on where to start with our article on A-Level geography revision.
In brief, let’s say here that books, magazines, and newspapers are your best bet. Newspapers like The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Times are all very prestigious publications that often report on geographical issues from urban geography to globalization and migration. The Guardian’s ‘Cities’ section might be a great resource for you specifically – or else you can try magazines like National Geographic, which focus specifically on geography.
Otherwise, there are many best-selling books that cover geographical topics, and you won’t have too much trouble tracking down some very readable, engaging, and even fun ones.
Newspapers are full of info that could be helpful for your geography revision.
These resources can provide the main source of information for your case studies – those examples of geographical phenomena that seem to dominate GCSEs and A Levels. Find as much data on these as you can and try your best to find case studies that actually interest you.
It cannot be stressed enough how important case studies are for your geography courses. They pin down your theory and concepts into real-life examples and are essentially an exercise in applying your knowledge to something real. Do not neglect them!
What might also be helpful is for you to seek sessions with a private tutor. Often super-qualified and experienced – and usually alumni of geography courses at universities – academic tutors can make a huge difference to your revision, whether it’s for talking you through thorny theoretical issues or for setting you extra work during the revision period.
Superprof is a great place to find private tuition, at any level, and you can take classes both online and face-to-face in the comfort of your own home.
Finally, it’s important to know that revision should not be an exercise in solitude or in self-imprisonment in your own room. And neither is it a fifteen hour a day job.
Revise well, and revise efficiently, but don’t wear yourself out doing it. Make sure that you take time to relax, and make sure that, at some moments at least, you precisely don’t revise. You have to switch off.