Preparing for exams is difficult. It’s academically challenging, emotionally testing, and often more than a little boring. But, as your teacher has certainly told you at one point or another, ‘the more you put into it, the more you are going to get out’. And if exam preparation remains one of those things that you are endlessly fighting, it’s time to find a different way.
The point here is that you can’t just see revision as an exercise in memorising facts that you are then going to forget. Rather, if you take it as an opportunity to find out and appreciate some things you didn’t know, it might rather feel more of an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
Because, if you think about it, the world is full of incredible things, and geography – theoretically, at least – is supposed to make this apparent to you. Whilst it may seem pretty dull in the classroom, it is one of those subjects – like biology, physics, and chemistry, for example – that are really inspiring when you realise that it isn’t actually about long words and theoretical models.
Geography is really about how drops of water can carve great valleys into mountains, how millions of people live beside each other in cities, and about how people survive and flourish in the desert.
If this makes sense to you, you can apply your enthusiasm and wonder back to the things you need to study. And once you’ve found the ways to get these in your brain – even just the littlest bit – it’s time to test yourself. To do this, you need past papers. You can find a guide to GCSE geography revision on our site, but here we’re on past papers only.
Understand the joys of the geographical world whilst revising.
We all know what a past paper is, and we all know that feeling when your geography teacher tells you that, yes, everyone, today is the day for a practice paper. It doesn’t always feel great, and that is absolutely okay.
But let us say that, honestly, past papers are a crucial tool in revision for a whole number of reasons. They are not only things to get you stressed out, but rather handy resources to help you understand what you know, what you still need to know, and what speed you need to move at within the examination.
The primary use of past papers is to establish which topics you have studied successfully and which parts of the syllabus you still need to get down. Past papers tell you this straight, as, in the context of real exam questions, they demand that you bring out all you know.
Of course, the holes in your knowledge, which past papers necessarily point out, are maybe a little scary. But honestly, you have to try to prevent them from being panic-inducing. When doing a past paper, you are not in your exam, so you are allowed gaps in your knowledge. Just use your new knowledge of your lack of knowledge in a healthy way: take note of the bits you didn’t know, build a revision framework around this, revise them over, and seal the gaps!
Whilst a pupil might get incredibly caught up with learning every single thing in the curriculum, you are well advised that whilst, yes, this matters, it is only half the battle. Without good exam technique, you are not going to get as far as you need to get.
What is exam technique? It is a combination of two key skills: the way you approach the questions of the exam and the pace at which you can answer questions. And these two things are not improved by reading through textbooks or by learning by heart every detail of every case study. They are rather only improved by doing past papers.
So, time yourself. Whilst you might be doing a past paper in your bedroom, with no external pressure whatsoever, you need to be strict with timing. Because writing quickly (particularly these days!) is a skill that needs to be practised.
Secondly, how to make sure your exam technique is good? Complete the paper, check through the mark scheme (see below!), and make sure that you actually answer the question!
For students studying geography, using past papers becomes even more important. This is because geography GCSE exams involve reading graphs, maps, and photos and applying your geographical knowledge and any geographic information to them. Whilst your textbook will help you with this, there is nothing better than seeing these figures from the perspective of and in the context of your exam.
For both physical geography and human geography you will have these types of question – and in any of the modules, topics, or themes, from globalization to urban geography to geology – so we really encourage you to spend some time on these questions before you are assessed.
Use maps to prepare effectively for your geography exam.
It is super easy to find the past papers that you will need for your Geography GCSE. If your teacher hasn’t given you them already, you’ll have no trouble tracking them down online.
Go to the website of the examination board of your geography course – usually either Edexcel, AQA, or OCR, although the same applies for International Baccalaureate qualifications, iGCSE, and A Levels – and follow the links through to the section on past papers.
Once there, you should be able to find the past papers for the last five years at least. This will equate to ten different past papers, as the exam board will provide a second paper in a year for any secondary school or institution that has a retake or two to do.
Within this same section, you will find other useful documents too. These, to tell the truth, are just as useful as the past papers themselves, as they give you the candidate a sneak peek into the mind and expectations of the examiner who is marking it.
In the specifications, you will find the fundamental outline and organisation of the course you will be taught during your GCSEs. And, whilst you won’t find the answer to all of your questions, you will be walked through the emphasis of your geography programme and given guidance on what needs to be achieved by you in your revision.
The mark scheme, on the other hand, is the necessary twin to the past paper. These texts will give you the desired answers for every question in the paper, as well as the marks you will have gained or lost in the answers that you have given. These can help you to see if you have actually answered the question – a skill the importance of which cannot be underestimated.
Finally, you will also find the examiner’s report. This relates the broad guidelines and the rationales behind the grade boundaries given and the overall quality of the cohort’s responses.
Here, you will see the examiner making comments about whether students, in general, achieved the completion of all the questions, about whether students did dramatically worse in one section than in another, and whether more or fewer students did better or worse than in the previous year.
This is helpful as it allows you to see what precisely the examiners hope to see.
For those living in Scotland, you might find the website Understanding Standards quite useful. Tailored to the SQA exam board, it lets you mark other students’ papers yourself and compare your thoughts to the examiners’.
This is a great tool, as it lets you sit in the examiner’s position and, ultimately, it shows you the things of which you need to take note in your own answers.
Geography revision does not have to be scary!
Whilst the official examination papers come from the exam boards, there are textbooks, often endorsed by boards, that try to replicate the equivalent questions in the official papers.
These often come alongside quizzes, homework assignments, and essay question ideas, so that you can find different ways of exploring the different ideas in economic geography, cultural geography, landscape studies or whatever you might be focusing on.
The textbook exam papers should be handled with care, as they are not always exactly like the ones in the actual exam.
Something else that might be helpful for you is to talk through you subject with a private tutor – someone who can sit down alone with you and help with precisely the question on which you are stuck. Check out Superprof’s many tutors to find someone near you who can help with your exam preparation!