Posted by: markhowell101 | June 30, 2011

OCR B Geography – First impression of the new exam, a reflection

I have had a week now to have a good look through the first OCR B exam in full on the new specification and thought I would reflect how I felt about it as a paper and how it matched up with the material previously available, the information gained at the OCR day I went to in London and with the spec / official text book.

My first impression of the exam was relief. It had been my belief throughout most of these 2 years that the format would allow students to choose between questions on rivers and questions on coast, between questions on population and questions on settlement and between questions on climatic hazards and questions on tectonic hazards. Having taught population and settlement and tectonics and climatic in equal measure this gave my students the opportunity to choose the easier set of questions or the ones which suited them better. However, due to doing our controlled assessment on coasts we had spent roughly twice as much time on this topic than we spent on rivers. I had thus suggested strongly that my students should answer the coasts questions. Clearly the nature of always doing the coasts controlled assessment means my students will always favour this over rivers, however, I learned late on in the process from a colleague that OCR had told them that the board reserved the right to set 2 of the same type of questions and I therefore spent a lot of time working on rivers stuff in the run up to the exam. It makes sense for the board to do this to stop unscrupulous teachers just teaching half the course in lots of detail and directing students towards only the questions they have studied. That said I think it is unlikely that they would ever do this simply because it would polarize results. By setting only rivers questions they potentially put at a disadvantage all those who did human or coastal controlled assessments. Only by setting questions on rivers, coasts, population and settlement do they ensure that all students have a fair crack at the area they have spent probably most time on and have experienced fieldwork it.

The exam turned out as I initially thought with a question on each of the 6 topics included (with questions of tectonics and climatic hazards, population and settlement and rivers and coasts kept apart) but I will not bank on this every year, making sure my students are prepared for every eventuality.

The first section got students to choose between rivers and coasts with similar questions set for both (incidentally all 32 of my students did rivers). The opening questions on both disciplines were fairly standard map reading and interpretation exercises for up to 4 marks. I think it is very likely that the map skills will be a fixture of the rivers and coasts section in future papers and will make sure that students can identify some river / coasts features on maps in future (obviously this can’t be the case in 2012 as rivers and coasts are the DME options and will not be in the exam). Both sets of questions also featured a 4 marks describe with the aid of a diagram question where students had to explain a features origin, again fairly standard. The coasts case study was fairly predictable for me as students have covered the natural features of a coastline in their C/A and I therefore was confident that management would be the topic of the exam case study. I would anticipate that this will be the case in the majority of years that the terminal exam will ask the opposing question to the question set in the C/A and will therefore alternate annually. I was glad my students were doing coasts as I felt the rivers case study was tricky. In the spec students are asked to know about 2 case studies of flooding (MEDC and LEDC), understanding 3 things about each: the causes, consequences and management. In the specimen papers and practice questions the case studies had always asked for 2 out of the 3 aspects, for example causes and management and so I felt it was tricky to expect students to respond to just 1 of the 3 elements, in this case the management. Something to consider in future.

On balance I felt the human questions were the most straightforward with half being on population (pop pyramids, changes in pop, links between development and pop, ageing pop and pop management) and the other half being on settlement (urbanisation, squatter settlements, counter-urbanisation and changes to retail provision). My students almost all answered the population question on the basis that we had a couple of pretty memorable case studies they could use for the long question. Students felt that both sets of questions were pretty reasonable and straightforward with no surprises. This was a relief as there were no pop and settle questions on the specimen paper provided and neither were there any on last years short course paper as these topics are not in the short course. At least now we have some questions to use as mocks and in class tests which look like the real thing. I am torn on whether to expect pop and settle to be separate every year as the topics do cross over more than the physical ones and it would be pretty reasonable to mix up the questions. That said both topics are controlled assessment options and therefore students doing human fieldwork ought to have the same opportunity to attempt questions on their area of most knowledge.

The third section covered the 2 natural hazards options and again this was split as expected with the first set on climatic hazards (specifically drought) and the second set on tectonics (volcanoes). My students mostly opted for the questions on volcanoes but most felt they would have been ok to answer the drought questions without any trouble. There were no specific questions on earthquakes or tropical storms, although case studies were open so that students could use case studies of these hazards if they wanted to. It remains to be seen whether the exams will always focus on one of the hazards in each category or whether in future they might look to mix up questions on say droughts and tropical storms or even droughts and earthquakes for example.

Overall I was pleased with the exam and really pleased that I seem to have gone about teaching and assessing the course over the 2 years in a way which prepared the students well for the final exam. Hopefully the results will be what I expect in August.

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