KS4 | Geography

The AQA GCSE geography (9-1) specification enables a variety of teaching and learning approaches. This exciting and relevant course studies geography in a balanced framework of physical and human themes and investigates the link between them.

Key Stage 4 Co-Ordinator:

Mr G Delbourgo 

Key Stage Four Overview

Students will travel the world from their classroom, exploring case studies in the United Kingdom (UK), higher income countries (HICs), newly emerging economies (NEEs) and lower income countries (LICs). Topics of study include climate change, poverty, deprivation, global shifts in economic power and the challenge of sustainable resource use. Students are also encouraged to understand their role in society, by considering different viewpoints, values and attitudes.

Upon completion of this two year course, students will have the skills and experience to progress onto A-level and beyond.


 Subject content

The subject content is split into four units: 3.1 Living with the physical environment, 3.2 Challenges in the human environment, 3.3 Geographical applications and 3.4 Geographical skills.

Unit 1: Living with the Physical Environment

This unit is concerned with the dynamic nature of physical processes and systems, and human interaction with them in a variety of places and at a range of scales.

The aims of this unit are to develop an understanding of the tectonic, geomorphological, biological and meteorological processes and features in different environments, and the need for management strategies governed by sustainability and consideration of the direct and indirect effects of human interaction with the Earth and the atmosphere.

Unit 2: Challenges in the Human Environment

This unit is concerned with human processes, systems and outcomes and how these change both spatially and temporally. They are studied in a variety of places and at a range of scales and must include places in various states of development, such as higher income countries (HICs), lower income countries (LICs) and newly emerging economies (NEEs).

The aims of this unit are to develop an understanding of the factors that produce a diverse variety of human environments; the dynamic nature of these environments that change over time and place; the need for sustainable management; and the areas of current and future challenge and opportunity for these environments.

Unit 3: Geographical Applications

The Geographical applications unit is designed to be synoptic in that students will be required to draw together knowledge, understanding and skills from the full course of study. It is an opportunity for students to show their breadth of understanding and an evaluative appreciation of the interrelationships between different aspects of geographical study.

Section A: issue Evaluation

This section contributes a critical thinking and problem-solving element to the assessment structure. The assessment will provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate geographical skills and applied knowledge and understanding by looking at a particular issue(s) derived from the specification using secondary sources.

The issue(s) will arise from any aspect of the compulsory sections of the subject content but may extend beyond it through the use of resources in relation to specific unseen contexts. Students develop knowledge and understanding of physical geography themes in unit 3.1 and human geography themes in unit 3.2. This section is synoptic and the assessment will require students to use their learning of more than one of the themes in units 3.1 and 3.2 so that they can analyse a geographical issue at a range of scales, consider and select a possible option in relation to the issue(s) and justify their decision.

A resource booklet will be available twelve weeks before the date of the exam so that students have the opportunity to work through the resources, enabling them to become familiar with the material. Students will not be allowed to take the original resource booklet into the examination room but will be issued with a clean copy in the exam. Sources could include maps at different scales, diagrams, graphs, statistics, photographs, satellite images, sketches, extracts from published materials, and quotes from different interest groups.

Assessment will consist of a series of questions related to a contemporary geographical issue(s), leading to a more extended piece of writing which will involve an evaluative judgement. Students will apply knowledge and understanding to interpret, analyse and evaluate the information and issue(s) in the pre-release resources booklet and the question paper. They will also use geographical skills to set the issue(s) in context and to examine conflicting viewpoints about the issue(s).

Students will develop a critical perspective on the issue(s) studied, consider the points of view of the stakeholders involved, make an appraisal of the advantages and disadvantages, and evaluate the alternatives.

The exam will also require students to consider physical and human interrelationships and to make reasoned justifications for proposed solutions in terms of their likely impact on both people and the physical environment.

Section B: Fieldwork

Students need to undertake two geographical enquiries, each of which must include the use of primary data, collected as part of a fieldwork exercise. There should be a clear link between the subject content and geographical enquiries, and the enquiries can be based on any part of the content addressed in units 3.1 and 3.2.

Fieldwork must take place outside the classroom and school grounds on at least two occasions.

The two enquiries must be carried out in contrasting environments and show an understanding of both physical and human geography. In at least one of the enquiries students are expected to show an understanding about the interaction between physical and human geography.

Students’ understanding of the enquiry process will be assessed in the following two ways:

  • questions based on the use of fieldwork materials from an unfamiliar context
  • questions based on students’ individual enquiry work. For these questions students will have to identify the titles of their individual enquiries.

Students will be expected to:

  • apply knowledge and understanding to interpret, analyse and evaluate information and issues related to geographical enquiry
  • select, adapt and use a variety of skills and techniques to investigate questions and issues and communicate findings in relation to geographical enquiry.

Geographical Skills

Students are required to develop and demonstrate a range of geographical skills, including

cartographic, graphical, numerical and statistical skills, throughout their study of the specification. Skills will be assessed in all three written exams. Ordnance Survey (OS) maps or other map extracts may be used in any of the three exams.

[1] Cartographic skills

Atlas maps:

  • use and understand coordinates – latitude and longitude
  • recognise and describe distributions and patterns of both human and physical features
  • maps based on global and other scales may be used and students may be asked to identify and describe significant features of the physical and human landscape on them, eg population distribution, population movements, transport networks, settlement layout, relief and drainage
  • analyse the inter-relationship between physical and human factors on maps and establish associations between observed patterns on thematic maps.

Ordnance Survey maps:

  • use and interpret OS maps at a range of scales, including 1:50 000 and 1:25 000 and other maps appropriate to the topic
  • use and understand coordinates – four and six-figure grid references
  • use and understand scale, distance and direction – measure straight and curved line distances using a variety of scales
  • use and understand gradient, contour and spot height
  • numerical and statistical information
  • identify basic landscape features and describe their characteristics from map evidence
  • identify major relief features on maps and relate cross-sectional drawings to relief features
  • draw inferences about the physical and human landscape by interpretation of map evidence, including patterns of relief, drainage, settlement, communication and land-use
  • interpret cross sections and transects of physical and human landscapes
  • describe the physical features as they are shown on large scale maps of two of the following landscapes – coastlines, fluvial and glacial landscapes • infer human activity from map evidence, including tourism.

Maps in association with photographs:

  • be able to compare maps
  • sketch maps: draw, label, understand and interpret
  • photographs: use and interpret ground, aerial and satellite photographs
  • describe human and physical landscapes (landforms, natural vegetation, land-use and settlement) and geographical phenomena from photographs
  • draw sketches from photographs
  • label and annotate diagrams, maps, graphs, sketches and photographs.

[2] Graphical skills

  • select and construct appropriate graphs and charts to present data, using appropriate scales – line charts, bar charts, pie charts, pictograms, histograms with equal class intervals, divided bar, scattergraphs, and population pyramids
  • suggest an appropriate form of graphical representation for the data provided
  • complete a variety of graphs and maps – choropleth, isoline, dot maps, desire lines, proportional symbols and flow lines
  • use and understand gradient, contour and value on isoline maps
  • plot information on graphs when axes and scales are provided
  • interpret and extract information from different types of maps, graphs and charts, including population pyramids, choropleth maps, flow-line maps, dispersion graphs.

[3] Numerical skills

  • demonstrate an understanding of number, area and scales, and the quantitative relationships between units
  • design fieldwork data collection sheets and collect data with an understanding of accuracy, sample size and procedures, control groups and reliability
  • understand and correctly use proportion and ratio, magnitude and frequency
  • draw informed conclusions from numerical data.

[4] Statistical skills

  • use appropriate measures of central tendency, spread and cumulative frequency (median, mean, range, quartiles and inter-quartile range, mode and modal class)
  • calculate percentage increase or decrease and understand the use of percentiles
  • describe relationships in bivariate data: sketch trend lines through scatter plots, draw estimated lines of best fit, make predictions, interpolate and extrapolate trends
  • be able to identify weaknesses in selective statistical presentation of data.

[5] Use of qualitative and quantitative data

Use of qualitative and quantitative data from both primary and secondary sources to obtain, illustrate, communicate, interpret, analyse and evaluate geographical information.

Examples of types of data:

  • maps
  • fieldwork data
  • geo-spatial data presented in a geographical information system (GIS) framework • satellite imagery
  • written and digital sources
  • visual and graphical sources
  • numerical and statistical information

Name of KS4 Coordinator; Mr. Gerry Delbourgo (HoD)

In-depth information to KS4:

Year 9 (GCSE Year 1)

Autumn term

Students will learn about tectonic and weather hazards – their causes impacts and how societies deal with such events. This is followed by climate change – its causes, the impacts it is having on different of scales and how societies are attempting to adapt and mitigate the risks posed. Extreme weather events, through a range of case study examples will also be studied. Students will be assessed on each sub-topic after revision lessons consolidating the acquired knowledge and identify any misconceptions.

Spring term

Students will learn about ecosystems at a small, local scale (e.g. pond), as well as at a large, global scale (e.g. biomes). This is followed by a detailed study of two large scale ecosystems – tropical rainforests and hot deserts (characteristics, challenges, opportunities, threats and management). Students will be assessed on each sub-topic after revision lessons consolidating the acquired knowledge and identify any misconceptions.

Summer term

In the first half of the summer term, students will complete any unfinished parts of the course so far and then spend considerable time in class engaged in revision activities.


During the second half of the term, after the end of Year examinations, students will begin urban issues and challenges. This will focus on why urban areas are growing so rapidly and the implications. This is followed by an in-depth case study of the issues faced by a city in a Low Income Country (LIC) or Newly Emerging Economy (NEE)


Year 10 (GCSE Year 2)

Autumn term

Students will begin the term completing the unit on urban issues and challenges, focusing this time on an in-depth case study of issues facing a city in a high income country (HIC).

After October half-term, students will learn about UK coastal landscapes – the main characteristic features plus the processes that create them. Students then explore issues relevant to the landscape (e.g. coastal erosion and flooding), examining the causes, impacts and strategies to manage and deal with the problems posed. Students will be assessed on each sub-topic after a revision lesson consolidating the acquired knowledge and identify any misconceptions.

Spring term

Between January and March, students will learn about UK river landscapes – the main characteristic features, plus the processes that create them. Students then explore issues relevant to the landscape (e.g. river flooding), examining the causes, impacts and strategies to manage and deal with the problems posed.


Students will be assessed on each sub-topic after a revision lesson consolidating the acquired knowledge and identify any misconceptions.

Summer term

In the first half of the summer term, students will complete the first two units of work and then spend considerable time in class engaged in revision activities for end of year exams.

During the second half of the term, students will participate in two compulsory field trips (one with a physical geography setting/focus and the other with a human geography (e.g. urban) setting/focus. Much of the time will be spent completing the follow-up work, whose purpose is to prepare students for that part of the Unit 3 exam (Geographical Applications).

Year 11 (GCSE final year)

Autumn term

The term will begin by consolidating learning from the fieldwork completed at the end of Year 10. A unit of work on the challenges of resource management (food, water & energy) then follows, which begins with an overview of resource issues in the UK.

A unit on the economic world (consisting mainly of learning about world development and the UK economy) will be facilitated through homework tasks and in-class ‘assessment for learning’ strategies. This will free up time to focus on exam and revision skills in class.

Time will be set aside (e.g. in November) to revise content and skills from the course so far, in the run-up to PPEs.

Spring term

The resource management unit will be completed by exploring one resource in detail – water. Issues from water security to strategies used to reducing its risks and impacts will be studied through case studies.

After February half-term, there is time to consolidate learning of the course content and skills in the run-up to March PPEs.

Summer term

The immediate focus will be analysis of the pre-release materials provided by the exam board AQA. This is an in-depth study of a real-world issue affecting a place. Students will be given activities to do to familiarise themselves with the resources and develop the required examination skills.

Some lessons will be devoted to tackling issues that arose from the PPEs, so addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings.