5 Top Tips for Acing IB Geography

Timothy Hoffmann

Top Tips from a Current University of Oxford Geography Undergraduate

So we all know that IB Geography can be a bit of a slippery slope when it comes to revision, but here is how to smash the exams out the water…

While you may have spent 2 years having the time of your life learning about pingos and hanging valleys, when you finally reach exams you will suddenly realise that there are 10,000,000+ definitions and case studies to remember and only 2 days to do it in. At this point your heart will jump into your mouth, causing you to whimper silently and start praying for time to reverse. In short, you will probably wish that you had taken the subject more seriously from the start… at least this was my experience!

Having finished with the (major) nightmare that is the exam period, I know that the final few weeks of revision can hugely stressful. So my number 1 top tip is not to leave anything until the last minute! The key to being successful in any subject at IB level is about being proactive inside and outside of class. You need to be organised, attentive in class and have all your notes from every class neatly organised whether online or in printed form. Keep your notes for each paper (1, 2 & 3) together and within that separate your topics and themes! I promise this will make the start of revision so much less painful and you might even be excited to make your own beautiful filing system (see below for inspiration…)!

Right so you are all set. Your final exams start in a couple of months. Now down to the nitty gritty; what should you really pay attention to when it comes to revision?


Top tip number 2:  Command Terms are KEY

Command terms are the quickest and easiest way of boosting your marks! Understanding what the exam is asking you to do is a surefire way of making sure whoever is looking at your paper knows you are well informed, well prepared and academically rigorous. No matter how much you know about pingos, if the question is asking you define a pingo and you explain their formation – you will not get the marks and you will waste time!  Make sure you understand the number of marks for each command term and the depth of answer you are required to give.

Top tip 3:  Diagrams are your secret weapon

Ever heard the saying ‘a picture is worth 1000 words’… well it’s not quite the same but in the IB a diagram can be worth a significant number of marks! A well labeled and explained diagram can often be key in successfully answering questions so try and have at least one or two ready-to-go for all your topics. These help not only to show the examiner that you truly understand what you are talking about, but also gives structure to your thoughts around a topic, aids memorisation and makes sure you include everything related to the diagram. When you look at a diagram you have drawn and realise there’s an additional line you haven’t labeled and discussed – that’s when they can save you some sneaky marks!

Top tip 4: Case Studies do not have to be (1) based in the UK , (2) have happened in 500 bc or (3) be the same ones everyone else uses

Sorry for the long title but I think it gets across (if not succinctly) what I’m trying to say… The best thing about Geography is its relevance to the modern world. Everything you see, hear, smell and sense is Geography in some form or another. Today’s world should be the inspiration for your case studies and global and local news is your portal into this. This is particularly helpful for the HL extension course but is 100% applicable to the course as a whole. When you use current affairs for your case studies it achieves 2 key things. First, you become way more interested in your studies; this way you tend to remember more, have a greater depth of understanding and be more critical in your thinking. Secondly, your essays become 10 times more original and interesting for the examiners. It’s a win-win situation.

Top tip 5: Use Past Paper Questions + the Mark Scheme

Geography paper 1 is a saving grace! It’s a much easier paper and it is very very possible to score really highly (even 100%). Questions tend to be quite repetitive year-on-year and this means that if you do loads of past papers and read the mark schemes carefully chances are that you will have seen a question – or at least one like it – before and will know exactly what the examiners are looking for. So get going on those past papers! It could just save you a sweet sweet 7.

Finally my 6th and most exclusive top tip, a little treat for those who have read all the way to the bottom, is that throughout the IB and particularly the revision process you need to remember that Geography can be and should be fun! Geography is an incredibly dynamic and interesting subject that tackles so many important and interesting themes — such as inequality, globalisation, hazard risk etc. — and it can be so easy to forget this. But in Geography everything you learn about actually happens around you and is super important in understanding world social, economic and environmental processes. So keep calm and have fun with it!