Thursday 18 January 2018

A field day

Geography teacher with Yeats College Derek Deane provides a rundown on the higher and ordinary level papers

THE higher and ordinary level papers in the Geography exam have the same structure. The paper is divided into two parts: section 1 contains short questions, while section 2 is mostly longer questions. The paper is worth 150 marks and the exam lasts two hours.

Section 1

This is worth 40% of the total exam, 60 marks. There are 20 short questions in this section, with each question being worth three marks. You must answer all 20 questions. Within three of the questions, there will be an either/or choice; answer both parts of the question and your best answer will be used when the examiner tallies your total mark.

Make sure you have a guess on the questions where you don't know the answer. Many within this section require you to select the correct answer from a choice of two or three options. This means that any question will have either a 1 in 2 or a 1 in 3 chance of being correct. A potentially very costly mistake here is turning over two pages in the exam and hence missing two whole pages of questions. This could result in you missing out on as many as five or six questions, 15-18 marks. To make sure this doesn't happen to you, check the page number as you turn the pages, or check the question number to make sure you have not skipped two pages.

Some questions will be based on extracting the correct answer from a graph or a table of statistics. On these questions it is very important that you read the question carefully and be clear on what is being asked of you. When reading graphs make sure you read all the information that is on the graph, such as the title of the graph and how each axis is labelled. Make sure that you use the correct unit of measurement when giving your answer.

Section 2

This is worth 90 marks, 60%. of the exam. There are five long questions here, each containing three parts (A, B, C). You must do three of the five questions. Typically question 5 will be based on ordnance survey maps and aerial photographs. Question 3 will be a 'Geographical Mix' question containing four parts (A, B, C, D), of which you need to do three parts. The general pattern here is that there will be one question on physical geography, one on social geography, one on economic geography, one on map skills and one containing a mixture of physical, economic and social geography. When selecting which questions to do make sure you don't select a question on the basis of knowing just one part of it very well, while knowing very little about the other two parts of the question. Pay attention to the marks assigned to the question as a guide to how long your answer should be. If the question is worth two marks you won't need to write more than a very brief statement. If the question is worth 10 marks about half of a page should be enough, that is so long as you have used the appropriate geographical terms accurately, shown that you understand these terms and kept your answer relevant to the question.



Contents-wise there is very little difference between the higher and ordinary levels. The higher level course has some extra case studies that are not required at ordinary level. The ordinary level exam requires less detailed answers. On the ordinary level exam two of the five long questions will be based on map and aerial photography skills. For those who are doing ordinary level it is strongly recommended that you make sure your map skills are good, as a quarter of the short questions are based on map skills and you could do two thirds of the long questions on maps and aerial photographs.


It's best to begin the exam by answering the short questions in Section 1. If you allow two minutes per question you should be finished this section within 40 minutes. More than likely it will take you a good deal less than this. Once you have finished this section check the answer booklet to make sure you haven't missed any pages. Be aware that there are terms, statistics, diagrams etc. within Section 1 that you may be able to use in your answers on Section 2.

For Section 2 you should allow 10 minutes to read the five questions and to decide which three questions you are going to do. After this allow 20 minutes for each of your three answers. It is important that you stick to this timeframe. If you have already spent 20 minutes writing on a particular question you have probably already picked up the bulk of the marks that you would have got on it if you continued to write for another 5/10 minutes. If you run out of time and don't manage to answer all the questions this can drag your grade down significantly. Some students will spend too much time drawing and colouring in diagrams. Typically a diagram, when asked for, will be worth just two marks. Any kind of very basic diagram will pick up these marks so long as it is labelled. If you find that you have finished writing before the 2 hours are up, then go back over what you have written and check to see if you have read all the questions correctly and see if there is anything you can add to your answers. If you still have time answer some extra questions. If you answer four or five questions your best three answers will be used to calculate your grade.

Irish Independent

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