Exam Guide

Exam Guide

Interpreting exam questions correctly and addressing them in the right structure,in line with the Assessment Objectives is really important for attaining the marks and for finishing the exam on time. This page will provide some important frames for answer exam question successfully.

BUG the Question

Each exam question features a command word and subject. It is essential that your response is structured in line with the command word and based on the subject. Students should always take the time to identify these elements correctly before starting their response

One framework for doing is to BUG the question. Box the command word - Underline the subject - Glance back at the question frequently as you write the response. You do this because it's easy to drift away from the subject or lose track of the command word under exam pressure. BUG the question must become built in.

Types of Question

Let's consider exam questions under the three assessment objectives.

AO1 - Knowledge and Understanding

Remember these type of questions fall under two general categories, they include, knowledge recall of key vocabulary, concepts, processes theories that show an understanding etc, and skill-based questions relating to charts, maps, photographs and graphs.

State Question

two naturally occurring greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (2)

The command word state above is boxed and the subject underlined

Response: Methane and water vapour

State is the simplest type of question and must not be over thought. It simply requires you to identify some knowledge

Identify Question

With reference to the map (not shown) two countries that are projected to have the greatest number of megacities by 2050 (2)

Again the command word identify has been boxed and the subject underlined

Response: China and India

This question will normally feature in reference to a resource such as a map, graph or infographic. It requires the skill to read  a source and correctly pick out a correct answer.

Describing Patterns in Maps and Graphs


Firstly offer a general overview of the pattern, is there even or uneven data

Reference the map where appropriate, places, compass, latitude

If there is scale - try to use. It can be used for describing the location, situation and size of a place or feature

Always use data if the map shows it

Identify any anomalies


Firstly offer a general overview of the pattern, is might show a rise or fall or a divide in the pattern of change

Refer to rates of change and time references

Refer to whether the growth constant or fluctuating

Always use data, such as high and low, possible range

Identify any anomalies

Be careful to identify any past or projected future patterns

Describe Questions

two characteristics of a country in stage two of the Demographic Transition Model (2)

The command word describe has been boxed and the key elements of the subject underlined

Response: The DTM tracks the possible change in population structure of a country as it develop over time. Stage two, is characterised by a rapidly rising population due to falling death rates. A second characteristic is high birth rates and large family size. In this stage of the DTM the population size is growing exponentially.

The response develops the essential elements of stage 2 of the DTM. Please take note that the response offer no explanation or reasoning


Using Figure 1 briefly the pattern of change in Japanese internal migration between 1955 and 2011 (2)

Response: Between 1955 and 1974 internal internal migration increased rapidly by 70%, rising from 5.5 million in 1955 to 8.5 million in 1974. Between 1975 and 2011 there was a gradual decline, falling by 1 million between 1974 and 1976 and gradually falling to just over 5 million by 2011. 

The response requires brief description. This is achieved by identifying data and using it in a sophisticated way. Two separate periods of are clearly developed and the response avoids simple extraction of data.


Using the map below  the pattern of population density in Nigeria (2)

Response: Most regions in Nigeria have a population density between 70 and 150 people per km2. The most populated region is Lagos, with over 2,000 people per km2. Following this, Imo and Anambra in the south have densities in excess of 600 people per km2. In general, population density decreases as you move away from these regions with Kano representing an anomaly in the north with 500-600 people per km2. 

This response provides good use of data and identifies the are of high population and the general trend of low density in the north. It also pick ot an anomaly

Thinking like a Geographer

An important part of the Geography curriculum and running through the SL and HL course are geographical concepts. Conceptual thinking will enable you to write about geographical issues in greater depth to a more complex understanding. The conceptual framework is used alongside different geographical contexts to frame your content knowledge and through this framework you ar able to synthesise. Synthesis as defined by the IB are personal and global viewpoints about how issues could be resolved. resolution required a a full and balanced understanding of the issue.


There are six geographical concepts

PlacePlace refers to distinct portion of geographic space. Places are shaped by their physical and human characteristics. For example their population size and age and the climate and dominant biome. Places are often in a state of change due to physical and human processes.
ProcessThese are human or physical mechanisms of change. For example migration increases slum growth and melting permafrost releases methane. Processes operate on various time scales from minutes to millennia. Plant photosynthesis and absorb carbon. Humans migrate to cities. Vector borne diseases migrate with shifting climates. Some processes can be viewed as linear or circular systems. Feedback for example. processes are often interconnected allowing change to occur through a sequence of mechanisms
PowerThis refers to the ability to influence a decision or equilibrium or for a process to enact change. Power is held by individuals, groups, organisations and governments as well as other stakeholders. Closely linked to power are perspectives. Perspectives are formed through the lived experience and values of a geographical context. Power and perspective are are not equal and can be used to exert control over the environment, economy and people. It can be gained and lost through interactions.
PossibilityFuture outcomes are uncertain but can be modelled by geographers to forecast different scenarios and pathways. Some examples of possibility can be seen in the different carbon mitigation pathways and the consequences for climate change. Urban growth and the challenges of poverty present different possibilities. What do future urban planning models look like in future urban population dominated by slums.
Scale Geographical context and places can be developed at range of spatial and political scales, from the household to the city from the local to the global. Scale can also be referred to time frames, such diurnal patterns of temperature range to climate change over the last 800,000 years
Spatial InteractionsPlaces are interconnected through the flows in people, goods, finance and information. Places become interdependent through trade. Interconnections can be both a positive and negative force.

These concepts help develop a balanced viewpoint. They help develop synthesis. Concepts help you understand processes of change at work in different place contexts. Places change over a timeframe that may be very fast and dynamic or at a rate that is relatively slow. The processes interact with each other. Places are shaped by the lived and perceived experience of physical and human processes. Places are also shaped by agents of power. Perspectives of people, are influenced by processes of change and agents of power and are not perspectives are not equal. Spatial interactions between places are diverse. They further influence processes of change and agents of power. The spatial interaction between processes, power and places create a range of possibilities. The spatial interactions and possibilities may not be equal to all. There are often winners and losers. Spatial interaction can however, be a force for positive change, but the future is full of uncertainty

AO2 Questions

These types of question require application of knowledge and analysis. Your knowledge of content amy need to be applied to a context or should should developed clear explanation and reasoning.

Explain Question

why fertility rates fall in a country (2 +2)

Response: Fertility rates refer to the average number of children born to women in a population. One reason for its decline can bee seen in polices that increase female participation in education. Educated allows for girls to develop skills and then professions. It also helps girls avoid teenage marriage that increases their fertility period.
A second reason is improved knowledge of family planning and access to contraception. When populations especially women are educated in family planning, couples have fewer children and mores spaced out. Access to affordable contraception avoid unnecessary pregnancy reducing fertility rate.

The response clearly states two reasons, namely education of girls and family planning. Each stated point is explained and linked to reduced fertility rate. Avoid giving just a simplistic explanation, develop the reason fully. This means you should explain your explanation. Separate your two examples and follow the same structure of Point Explain Link


two natural causes of climate change (2+2)

Response: One natural cause of climate change is variation in solar radiation. Solar output reaching the Earth in the form of long wave energy varies over large time scales, known as the Milankovitch cycles. These include, orbital changes, precession and changes in the axial tile of the earth. Due to these changes, the spatial patterns of insolation vary and lead to periods of warming or cooling.
Volcanic eruption produce ash and sulphate aerosols that absorb and scatter incoming solar radiation. Large eruption s such Mt Pintatubu have the effect of cooling the earth's atmosphere by as much as 1-2 degrees for up to a year.

This response again is structured in two parts with each mini paragraph clearly stating  a natural cause. This cause is then explained with detailed knowledge, vocabulary and evidence.

AO3 Questions

Essay writing is a really important aspect of assessment. In Paper 2 it is based on synthesis and evaluation. This AO requires responses to organise a range of geographic ideas, concepts, case studies and evidence to provide a balanced personal judgement and evaluation.

Essay Guidance for Paper 2

The essay in Paper 2 as already stated is evaluative and so requires personal judgement that draws on a range of perspectives and evidence to provide a balanced argument. Evaluation and synthesis should run all the way through the essay because the command word informs the structure of the essay. The common student error to leave the evaluation to the conclusion. This must be avoided.

The typical essay question looks reads like:

'The world's wealthiest countries must take most responsibility for mitigating the causes of climate change.'

To what extent do you agree with this statement? (10)

To what extent do you agree 'that population growth will always lead to environmental catastrophe.' (10)

The essay must be structured within a frame that includes an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.


The introduction should achieve three things:

  1. It should define any key technical terms in the question.
  2. It should introduce named places or locations if appropriate to the evidence
  3. It should set out the range of perspectives and evidence that informs your personal judgement

The Introduction should be sharp and concise. State a range of relevant evidence and make a clear statement of your personal judgement that evaluates the subject in the question.

The introduction should not provide lengthy definitions, over descriptive case study evidence and must not offer explanation of processes and concepts. This is developed later in the main body.

The Main Body

The main body develops your argument and personal judgment further. It is informed by developing a range of evidence and perspectives. This evidence should provide a balanced account in support of your personal judgement. Evidence includes concepts, theories, place examples, case studies and data from reliable sources. A balanced argument is achieved through demonstrating analysis and synthesis, that develops links between the evidence and recognises the influence of geographical context and how this might vary across and between places and show different outcomes and perspectives.

The structure of the main body should be in paragraphs. A paragraph should develop a range of connected ideas and evidence. One paragraph should flow and link to the next paragraph. Each paragraph should have frequent tag statement link directly or infer back to the question. The number of paragraph is less important but commonly range between two and four.

A paragraph should synthesise across a range of evidence and perspectives. It should demonstrate a supported personal judgement

A paragraph should not develop a highly descriptive account of just one case study. Avoid case study dumps, they rarely address the subject or the command word and so are not awarded marks.

The Conclusion

A conclusion should be sharp and concise and provide a final synthesis of the evidence developed in the essay to conclude your personal judgement and evaluation.

A conclusion should not introduce new ideas, concepts or evidence or contradict the balance of evidence developed i the main body

Level Mark Schemes

LevelLevel description
1-4 marksResponse is general, not focused on the question, and lacks detail and structure. No synthesis or evaluation is expected.
5-6 marksResponse only partially addresses the question, with limited subject knowledge links. Evidence is both relevant and irrelevant, and is largely unstructured. No synthesis or evaluation is expected.
7-8 marksResponse addresses most parts of the question, with developed subject knowledge links. Ideas are supported by relevant evidence. A structured synthesis of different ideas, or a genuine evaluation is required.
9-10 marksBalanced response addresses all aspects of the question, ideas are well explained and there is sustained use of well-integrated evidence. Both a well-structured synthesis and a genuine evaluation are required.
A Marked Example

‘The impacts of climate change on migration and health are likely to be the more destabilising consequences of global climate change.’

Examine the extent to which you agree with this statement (10)

Hover over the notepads to see feedback

There is great uncertainty concerning the future impacts of climate change but it is becoming clear that unless temperature rise can be limited to 2°C, the impacts will be severe and unevenly distributed. Climate change threatens water and food insecurity as well the flooding of low-lying nations like Bangladesh. Many factors, combined will destabilise countries. Both heath and migration have the potential to destabilise at a range of spatial scales.

Climate change is likely to bring about enormous environmental change. Examples include estimated sea rise of between 60 and 80cm by the end of the century. Increased drought in arid environments as well as the onset of heavier unpredictable rainfall events and flooding in tropical and temperate regions. Glacial retreat will lead to increased water insecurity and soil erosion, partly due to poor land management will increase food insecurity.

Individually each of these factors alone have the potential to destabilise nations. Competition for vital resources is likely to increase at a range of scales from the local to the global. The search for grasslands is already leading nomadic farmers to take larger migratory routes. This creates conflict with sedentary farmers, as seen in Kenya over land and water access along the River Tana. Competition for local water resources, falling groundwater and salt free soils will lead to increased water and land conflict and only serve to destabilise.

With increased water stress and falling crop yields as well as most region of the world experiencing a migration of disease vectors such as the mosquito, there is bound to be greater impact on health. Such health impacts will have grave consequences for economic stability, impacting productivity and growth. Health impacts have the potential to destabilise at both the national and global scale. With increased health demands, health capacity becomes overburdened, civil agencies struggle with capacity and economic institutions and productivity all weaken as seen in Brazil in its fight against Zika virus. At the household scale, working days and school days are reduced due to ill health and farm productivity falls as does food security.

In addition, with increased competition for resources compounded by population pressure, the likelihood of environmental refugees is almost inevitable. We are already seeing massive numbers of economic migrants escaping regions in sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom are looking for a better life, but in reality are fleeing poverty brought on by competition for resources and environmental stress. Increased migration to urban centres as well as emigration can add pressures on resources, employment and security. Migrants bring with them both opportunities and challenges but in places like Bangladesh where resources are already fiercely competed over, outside migrants increase resource and employment pressures can quickly and local frustrations can quickly turn violent. One of the biggest challenges in Dhaka is water security. Authorities fear that a widespread water crisis could bring down the government. In addition, many people may across the border to already politically unstable regions of India, increasing international tensions

Most environmental refugees place the strain on local regional centres, that are often resource poor but resilient to the challenges. Increasingly we are witnessing many migrants attempting a dangerous journey to more developed regions like Europe. Horrifying accounts of the dangers they face has prompted Europe to mobilise resources to securing their boarders but also saving lives. This comes at a price and requires careful political coordination. During a period of renewed nationalism in Europe it brings the region into potential political conflict. Brexit was fought mainly on the grounds of an anti-migration campaign that now threatens not only the short-term economic stability of the UK but also the legitimacy and sustainability of the EU project.

As already stated many factors relating to climate change will be destabilising. The impacts will be felt at the local and global scale. Whilst health impacts are likely to destabilise local and regional communities, mass migration threatens to destabilise entire global regions.

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