It’s that time of year again, when actual learning at school slows down and your exams can be seen faintly on the horizon. It’s the time when your teacher’s clamorous warnings about studying become increasingly insistent and high-pitched – and when, really, that urge not to study needs to be fought.
This time round though, for A Levels, beyond the examinations there is no more school. Rather, there’s university courses, a job or internship, or a trip around the globe on a gap year. This is not to scare you, but to remind you that this is the last hurdle in your secondary school career – and you’ve already achieved so much!
So, let’s approach this time in a healthy way. Not with an attitude of boredom, frustration, or desperation – otherwise you won’t manage to get to the exam, let alone sit it. Rather, your exam revision should be sustainable, efficient, and, ideally, enjoyable. If, on the other hand, you burn out after two weeks – because you are going too hard – this ain’t going to be great for your overall grade.
This is to say, try to avoid burnout. Revise geography efficiently, not excessively.
Geography – split as it is into human geography and physical geography – is an incredibly diverse discipline which requires a broader range of skills and a more flexible academic perspective than most subjects you will study at A Level. This is because it is a strange mix of a social science, a science, and a humanities subject.
As such, and as you will know, you will cover all different phenomena, from issues of ‘cultural geography’, including ideas such as landscape, cartography, and globalization, to more scientific themes, from geology, statistics, and spatial analysis. Geography is so demanding because it requires an attention to all of these things – and consequently requires an ability to write essays, to manage and analyse geographical data, and to have a fundamental understanding of geographic theories.
Yet, despite its academic challenge, the study of geography engages with some of the most fascinating issues on the planet – not least in that basic interaction between humanity and the physical world. Geography is not something that happens inside the classroom, but rather it is constantly going on all over the world.
Somewhere inside you, as someone who chose to be an A Level geographer, you recognise this fact about the subject (that it’s actually interesting!), and it is the sense of the fascinating and amazing that you have to pull out when revising. Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult to enjoy the upcoming months!
Consequently, we have turned this article on its head a little and put the less conventional – but infinitely more valuable – revision resources at the top, and the ones you already know below. As an A Level student, you are expected to do a little more in your exam than merely regurgitate material from a textbook. The examiner wants to see, rather, that you can relate the thematic issues and theoretical framework that you learn in your geography programme to our world beyond the lesson.
Let’s try then to attend more to the events of world geography in which you are actually interested than to the limited content in your textbook. Like this, revision will be a much more fruitful process.
Firstly, let’s start with newspapers and magazines. It’s not just by chance that these bits of paper are the primary source of information for the majority of the planet. They are (usually) up to date, authoritative, and trustworthy, and their analyses of contemporary events can be useful places for you to see geographical ideas in the real world.
You might ask at this point, what does the news have to do with geography? But, if you think about the main issues in the world right now, you will see how they all fit into your geography syllabus: geopolitics can be seen in Brexit, migration is at the heart of the Windrush scandal, and the controversies surrounding climate change are clear in the US’s current policy. By reading the news, you can gain a greater, more in-depth understanding of what your subject actually is, and you can collect facts that will make your exam script exceptional.
Some good places to try might be The Guardian, The Times, and current affairs magazines such as the New Statesman and the Spectator. Try National Geographic and The Ecologist for geography focussed material.
Even magazines can help you revise geography.
If you want to push your knowledge even further, you could well try reading books that weren’t originally designed for your geography course. Because the things you study are not only studied at school(!); rather, people all over the world read, think, and write about those themes you are examining in your lessons too.
It’s difficult to give a summary of the best books in geography, but some very engaging and readable ones can be suggested. These are books that are equally as important as the core textbooks for your geography course – but you are encouraged to find your own too!
If you are interested in urban geography, try David Harvey, whose books Social Justice and the City and The Urban Experience are very readable. Or else, try Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which mixes urban studies with economics and sociology.
For those interested in development and inequality, try Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s best-selling Why States Fail. Jared Diamond’s Gun, Germs, and Steel is a famous book on a similar topic.
On climate change and ecology, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything was a very influential book. Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, alternatively, is a rather scary one about the effects of climate change.
Beyond the great resources that you will be able to find on the websites and apps of the newspapers and magazines mentioned above – as well as on the personal sites and blogs of the authors of the above books – there are more conventional A Level revision resources which might be helpful for you.
A Level Geography is the most originally named geography revision website on the internet, and it caters to both geography students and their teachers. Everything from the water cycle and the tectonic structure of the earth to coastal erosion, population growth, and ecosystem management is covered, in handy and readable pages.
There is also a page on geographical skills, which is helpful for those parts of the exam which are not merely about the accumulation of information.
S-Cool has become a bit of an institution in the field of GCSE and A Level revision. Again, its information resources are incredibly accessible and are interactive– and there is the great addition of quizzes and summaries too. A really brilliant resource for those looking to develop their knowledge of the fundamentals of the A-Level geography course.
The BBC’s revision website, Bitesize, is an indispensable resource for those looking for quick and easy facts relevant to geography courses across the country – from Scottish Highers to GCSEs and International Baccalaureate.
As part of your revision, you should pay close attention to case studies – those real-life examples of geographical phenomena. These show the examiner that you know exactly what you are doing, and that you can apply the models, theories, and concepts to the world beyond the boundaries of the school.
You’ll find many case studies in the books and magazines mentioned above, but you will also be given key cases by your teacher. You will find those suggested by the exam board in your textbooks too.
It is important that you find case studies that actually interest you – that you can relate to, that take place in locations that you know, recognise, or have visited, or that focus a concept that is engaging. This will help you remember the information – and it will hopefully be information that has some value for you beyond its usefulness in the exam.
Yorkshire is home to one of geography’s greatest case studies, Malham Cove.
Using past papers, particularly for A Level, is key – as they allow you to practise the skills and methods that the exams demand of you. Examinations are not just about what you know but also about how you can apply that knowledge.
Questions in geography papers that demand that you engage with maps, diagrams, or pictures deserve your particular attention during revision, as these are skill- rather than knowledge-based.
You will find the past papers on the websites of the examination board – whether Edexcel, AQA, SQA, or OCR – alongside other helpful documents like examiner reports, mark schemes, and course specifications.
Find a dedicated article to geography A Level past papers on our site too!
Finally, it is crucial that whilst revising, you remember to take care of yourself – to eat well, to sleep, and, sometimes, to not actually revise. If you work all the time, you risk burnout, frustration, and unhappiness.
So, revise, yes, but breaks aren’t illegal – and nor is seeing your friends and enjoying yourself. And, honestly, this isn’t as obvious as it might seem.