Monday, 26 August 2013

Thoughts of an AS Geography Examiner

This summer I worked as an examiner for AQA and whilst doing so I thought it would be useful to write down some things I learnt about answering exam questions. Having to mark people down for silly mistakes or just basic lack of exam technique was painful at times! Unfortunately the way exams are these days means that a lot of it is about your ability to answer questions in the right way rather than how much geography you know. Obviously you need detailed geographical knowledge as well but I would say someone with less knowledge but better exam technique is going to come out with a better grade than someone who can reel off hundreds of case studies with supporting facts and figures and explanations.

I know it's a long way before the exams, we're right at the beginning of the year, but it's never too early to start developing good habits when it comes to applying your knowledge. Hopefully, with enough practise, you'll be so used to it that you can focus on the geography rather than trying to interpret the question and avoid making unnecessary errors that could cost you a grade. So, without further ado, here's some things I wrote down while marking.... I hope it helps! (nb this mainly applies to AS nothing about essays at A2 in there I'm afraid but much of it applies to both levels).

  • Don't write outside the area of the question (e.g. in the margin) if need more room use a separate sheet of paper and indicate this in your question, otherwise part of your answer will get cut off.

  • Write clearly in black ink, so many of them didn't scan properly or the handwriting was illegible

  • Answer needs to be very very focused on the question and command words, there is no point adding in random stuff that's not relevant to the question just to try and fill the space. If anything this is annoying for the examiner who has to trawl through trying to find the good parts of your answer.

  • Lists or bullet points or writing in note form will confine you to low level 1.

  • Study OS maps very carefully, e.g. in one questions people consistently counted the wrong number of churches and assumed that a 'place of worship' was a church, when in fact it could have been a mosque, synagogue etc. A-level lessons often do not have much time to spend on studying OS maps so this is something you should practise your own time too.

  • If asking to compare you MUST compare! Do it point by point, do not write 2 separate paragraphs and expect the examiner to compare for you!!

  • Please learn definitions correctly! This is the easiest thing ever, even if you don't understand it you can just memorise it and still get your 2 marks, 2 marks are not worth losing due to laziness. Ask your teacher for a list of key words/look in the textbook and start learning them now!

  • Think about things carefully and try not to oversimplify, e.g. renewable energy isn't always sustainable or good for the environment, the phrase 'three gorges' comes to mind...

  • I really can't be bothered to read illegible answers... (i did try of course, but you are not doing yourself any favours if the first impression your answer gives to an examiner is 'oh God, seriously? this is English??'). You know that exams are marked on the computer now, so imagine how illegible your illegible handwriting is going to be once it's scanned... then imagine that you and your 10 000 friends from the 'my hand writing is so illegible it looks like an alien code' society decided to sit the A-level geography exam.... 

  • Marking the same question over and over and over gets pretty boring, especially when everyone uses the exact same case studies from the exact same textbook... there's nothing wrong with being original and giving your own opinions occasionally (rather than the opinion of the guy who wrote the textbook), it might wake the examiner up from their marking stupor and encourage those sitting on the fence between levels to mark you up instead of down...

  • e.g. HIV in Botswana.... One child policy in China.... snore....these are great case studies if that's what you did in class, but please tell me something new or interesting about them

  • If the question asks you to discuss, please DISCUSS!!! don't just describe stuff, this is so tediously boring and sad to mark...(so much valuable and carefully learnt information... so carelessly regurgitated onto the page...) It was so uplifting when a student put in their opinion, compared two viewpoints, weighted up two situations, decided which negative impact was the least worst, considered short and long term, the past and the future, different aspects of something, variations in TIME/SPACE/SCALE etc etc and I could say, woohoo! they've reached the next level!

  • Saying there is a clear trend or lots of variation will not get you any marks, you must say what the trend is!! Duh!!

  • Few students seem to understand what 'implications for social welfare' means! And even fewer can comment on it 

    Learn what 'comment on' means and how this is different to simply 'describing'.

  • Using a black fine liner was clearer than a biro, and please don't write so microscopically tiny as exam scripts aren't scanned in HD.

  • Don't cross stuff out unless you're 100% sure! It could be right...

  • When comparing stuff 'A is 20% and B is 30%' is NOT a comparison! You need some comparing words such as 'whereas... only....much lower at...' in there!

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