Using a mnemonic to remember top Geography GCSE… | tutor2u Geography
Exam technique advice

Using a mnemonic to remember top Geography GCSE tips in the exam hall

Trying to remember all the advice and techniques in the tension-arena of the exam hall with the clock ticking down is one of the hardest areas for students to master. But by using a mnemonic that captures all the key criteria that feature in mark schemes, your students can remind themselves about all that pertinent advice you’ve been giving them.

Last summer, as in previous years, I would tell my GCSE students to write down our department mnemonic on the back of their exam paper as soon as they sat down – even before they wrote their name. It was the last piece of advice I gave them as they lined up to go in to the hall and the first thing I hoped they remembered as they picked up a pen.

The mnemonic I advise is: T - A - S - U - L - E – T

T : Title – read the wording of the title of each question carefully. In fact read it twice and underline the key words in it. Identify the command word (Describe, Explain, Justify …) and key parameters in the question (…how can effects of natural hazards in low income countries be managed…). Notice if there are two or more parts to the question (Describe the distribution and explain the factors responsible ….).

A : Accuracy – look at the key details in data that is provided. Notice the scale on maps, the key, the units of measurement in lists of numbers. When referring to information from a map or table, quote it accurately and use the direction and scale in answering (most large earthquakes of over 6 on the richter scale to the east of Japan occur within 250 km of the coast). The Accuracy also refers to noting how many marks there are for each question and answering accordingly: two points being made for a 2-mark question; three for a 3 .. and about a minute per mark for 4-mark (often 2 points and two elaborations/links) and above.

S : Structure (or Sections) – of the answer. This is about paragraphing longer answers for 5-mark and above questions. Well-organised answers hit higher-criteria mark-bands than loose collections of random ideas. Classifying factors into ‘human’ and ‘physical’, or human impacts into ‘social’, ‘economic’ and ‘environmental’ for instance. For opinion-based questions that ask for a view, be prepared to give both sides of the argument, explaining why you consider one side more persuasive. And aim to give a concluding sentence that sums of the dominant factor/issue/argument or that summarises a ‘learning point’ (… from all this it is clear that the benefits of volcanic eruptions are experienced by people close to the active zone, but the problems they cause affect a much wider scale ….)

U : Understanding – demonstrate it. You may know and understand a geographical feature or process but you have to prove to the examiner that you know the points at more than a superficial level. Go further than ‘Businesses do well in holiday resorts due to tourism… and explain ‘which’ businesses, and ‘when’ do they ‘do well’? Don’t just leave ‘Freeze-thaw action occurs because of the temperature changes…’ but ‘what’ temperature changes, ‘when’ – and what is the process.

L : Links – develop sequences of explanation. We practise this a lot in the weeks before the exam and come up with lists of connectives that help explain cause-and-effect in geography. ‘This is because…’; ‘this leads to ….’; ‘A consequence of this is that ….’; ‘An additional factor contributing to these effects is ….’. It can also refer to apparent correlations in figures and tables – a linking of two variables: ‘as the precipitation falls throughout the year, the frequency of wildfires seems to increase. This is because….’

E : Examples – the very stuff of geography: the real world. Learn your case studies, be on the lookout for examples in the news, illustrate what you are writing about with reference to actual places. Be specific; ‘Africa’ is a very large continent so tie down what you are writing about to a named country or region if not an even smaller scale, located by country and continent. Avoid ‘name-lobbing’ places into your answer as an after-thought ‘….eg. The Amazon.’ and thinking that’s done the trick. Make it clear you can give specific details of the example to illustrate you have knowledge of more than its name.

T : Terms – geographical vocabulary. Geographers have a rich language, so make sure you use it. Rocks aren’t ‘bashed’ against cliffs by waves, but ‘abrasion of cliff faces occurs during storm conditions as material hurled with force by destructive waves…’. Know that ‘sustainability’ can refer to resource-use, urban design and transport infrastructure as well as ‘energy’. And know the difference between terms like ‘feature’ and ‘process’ that may crop up in questions.

It wasn’t just at the end of the GCSE course that the mnemonic was introduced; it featured throughout the two years of the study, being referenced and exemplified whenever a past-exam question or extended answer was being done. By the time of the final walk into the exam hall it was pretty much the most oft-repeated phrase that we’d used. Quite recently, one student said “It’s a pretty stupid word. But it does spell ‘SALUTE T’ – which I’ll be needing when I come out of the exam.”

Sounds like a way of remembering it that takes the biscuit.

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