With your A Level examinations on the horizon, it’s time to get moving with your revision. Yes, we all know that this is a bit of a stressful prospect, but, with plenty of time ahead, and with a whole host of different resources at your disposal (literally more than you could possibly need!), you will be absolutely fine. You will achieve the grades you need to do whatever you want to do next.

Whether this is applying to university, finding an internship, or attending a vocational course at college, your A Level results will be used by this institution or that to determine whether you have the aptitude and dedication to succeed. So, let your summer exams be a test of your determination and a chance to show off all the knowledge you have gained throughout your secondary school career.

But, as ever, panicking is not the answer – and studying is neither an exercise in competition nor merely a game of working yourself silly. Take it easy, study efficiently not desperately, and take care to look out for yourself and your mates in the classroom.

If your teachers haven’t told you this already: your health and well-being is more important than learning every sentence of all the textbooks you own. It is a clear head and a positive attitude that gets you through exams, not the number of hours spent staring at a book.

Popocatépetl, above clouds.
Mexico's famous volcano, Popocatépetl. Another of geography's wonders.

Revising for Geography

Geography seems immediately like one of those subjects – more like those sciences, chemistry, biology, and physics – that is simply about learning the material. But, whether you are studying the volcanoes and processes of erosion that make up physical geography or the movements of populations and energy resources that you’ll find in human geography, the broad discipline is a mixture of understanding models, finding and using relevant data, and writing clear and pertinent essays. This is the thing about geography: it demands that you use a diverse range of different key skills.

So, really, revising for the exam in this discipline – which moves between a science, a social science, and a humanities subject – is as much about honing the correct technique as it is about consuming the right facts. In this article, we’ll be looking more at the approaches and strategies you will need to be preparing than at the details of geology, geopolitics, or environmental geography – or whatever – that you will need to learn. If you read our article on tips and guidance on A Level geography revision, you will find that information there.

Let’s, then, put aside your knowledge of case studies, your spatial analysis project, or your models of migration. Let’s instead look at how you are going to tackle those exam questions – and the resources that can help you in this regard.

Why Use Past Papers when Revising Geography?

Past papers are the crucial tool that can help you refine and perfect the technique that you are going to take into your exam. As you probably know, these are real examination papers from previous years, which real students in your position sat. There’s nothing better – for your practice, obviously, rather than your pleasure than seeing the real thing and getting comfortable with how it works. If you are familiar with the thing and know what to expect in the exam, the whole experience is going to be much less stressful for you.

So, what’s the point of spending your time pretending you’re in the exam? Let’s have a look at some of the key benefits of using past papers.

A woman studies at her laptop, stressed.
Geography revision is easy when you know where to start.

Exam Technique and Time-Training

Crucially, past papers are the best way to pin down your exam technique. This means two things. Firstly, it refers to the way that you answer the questions you are asked. Secondly, it refers to your timing and to your ability to finish the whole paper.

So, how then do you ensure you answer the questions properly? What some students do, in response to a question on a case study, say, is to throw down everything they know about that case: all the facts and figures, all the information no matter how relevant.

But this is both inefficient and risky. Risky, because, if they receive any marks for their answer, this is purely by chance, merely by the sheer accumulation of information. But such a risk often pays off, because geography A Levels are usually marked positively, meaning that you are awarded for correct answers, but never penalised for wrong or irrelevant answers.

However, it is risky also in its inefficiency, as you only have a limited time to complete the whole paper. In this case, writing down everything you know just becomes a waste of time, using precious moments that might better be spent elsewhere.

Answering questions well then is a case of following instructions. If you are asked to describe a diagram, keep your answer to descriptive comments: what you can see, what trends are present, what the diagram actually shows. Don’t bother to write why, as this is an explanation, not a description, and you won’t receive any marks for this.

Practising with past papers helps you get to grips with this. Because whilst it may sound obvious, you’ll be amazed by how many people get it wrong.

Gaps in Your Geographical Knowledge

Another thing that past papers can help with is identifying the gaps in your knowledge. Say you have spent an hour a day reading from the textbook. Doing a past paper tests whether this reading has yielded results.

In this respect, it is best to do past papers earlier rather than later in your revision process, as you can keep track of your progress. You can know which bits you still need to work on, and which bits you’ve got covered – and this can provide an essential bit of reassurance throughout your revision.

Cartography, Tables, Images

Another part of the exam that you will need to practise is the questions that ask you to read maps and diagrams or to interpret images. Reading maps, interpreting data, and analysing photos are core geographical skills, not just annoying things you have to do to pass the exam.

Yes, your teacher will probably replicate this style of question for you, but the exam boards’ questions usually come in a particular style that you are encouraged to get to grips with. Remember, in these questions, the words of the questions mean specific things: describe asks for what you see; explain asks for why this might be the case.

How to Track Down Your A Level Past Papers?

Past papers are super easy to find, for whichever exam board you are studying. And, if your teacher hasn’t supplied you with them already, there are two main ways to find them: from the official exam board websites, or from revision guides and textbooks.

The Official Exam Board Website

A quick Google will bring you to the website of Edexcel, OCR, AQA, or whichever exam board it is you are studying. Whilst course specifications have recently changed (Edexcel in 2018, for example), you should be able to find at least four past papers from the new A Levels. The papers from the previous specification will also be on the websites too, as the exam board knows that these are important resources for students – and the courses haven’t changed all that much anyway.

These are the papers that previous students actually sat, so becoming familiar with these is important for your own success and comfort.

Geography Revision Guides and A Level Textbooks

If, for whatever reason, you can’t get your hands on official past papers, you will be able to find mock exams in the A Level revision guides that you can buy. These won’t be exactly the same as the official ones – as they are not peer-reviewed – but they will be helpful in showing you the style of question that you might be asked.

Finding resources to learn geography
Get the best books to help you pass your A Level geography exam.

Examiner’s Reports, Specifications, Mark Scheme

On the exam boards’ websites, you will find other handy resources alongside the past papers. These include the course specification, the examiner’s report, and the papers’ mark schemes, which are essential if you are hoping to be marking the paper you just sat!

The specification, firstly, gives you the broad framework of the course you are sitting, with every module, topic, and theme. These are useful in guiding your revision, checking what you have covered and what not, and making sure you don’t revise anything you don’t need to know.

The examiner’s reports, on the other hand, are a wonderful sneak peek into the other side of the exam. With these, you can leave your student mind for a moment and see what the examiners themselves want to see from your work. These will outline students’ common pitfalls, the papers’ most difficult questions, and ways that questions could have been answered differently.

Finally, the mark scheme is the necessary twin to the past paper, as it gives you the answers to the questions therein. These can in themselves be good resources for revision, as they provide information that you may not have learned in class!


For GCSE students, you'll find a GCSE geography past papers article on our site, as well as a guide to GCSE geography revision. There's a general guide to geography revision too!

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