So how do you tackle a case study question?

First, that depends on whether you are practising or taking a real exam. In both cases, I can’t stress enough how you must know the material (the concepts of the question being asked + case specific details) and understand the question.

The Scoring Approach

I will use an example to explain the exact steps that you should go through to land the highest marks:

Name a city and describe what has been done to improve living conditions in the slums
found there. (from November 2013 paper from CIE)
The TWO-STEP Method:

-Plan what information has to be included. Make a bulleted list of the most important points. In this case:

 Name the city you are going to talk about and the country it is located in.
  1. Describe the slum you are talking about (eg. population, living conditions, location)
  2. Describe how the living conditions have been improved (you have to make at least 3 good statements to score 6 out of 7 marks)
  3. In part 2 or 3 include some form of place specific reference)

-After gathering all the information write out your answer in full sentences.  For this question, your final answer may look something like this:

Rio de Janiero, Brazil
In Rio de Janiero, 1 in 6 people live in a squatter settlement, locally known as favela. Several schemes have been implemented to improve the living conditions. For example, housing quality has been improved and slum citizens have been granted property rights. Also, electricity and water supplies have been developed. Besides, residents can trade a bag of waster for a gallon of milk, to reduce pollution. This important for recycling and solid waste management, which will ensure better living conditions. Additionally, an education scheme encourages children to hand in toy guns for comic books, in an attempt to counteract crime.

If you are practising (and not being graded by your teacher) …

handwritten, hand, notebook

Are you struggling to score high marks even though you know the material?  If that is the case, I will break down this two-step approach even further, so you can not miss anything and you will learn precisely what the examiner wants to read.

  1. Read the question carefully and underline the command word. Are you asked to describe or explain? Describe means to say what something is like or to give the features of something. Explain means to say why something is a certain way or how something occurs.
  2. Underline the key words. What are you asked to describe or explain? Are they looking for the causes of a volcanic eruption? If so, don’t focus on the effects unless you keep it short and do not distract from the main point (no more than 1 sentence, either introduction or conclusion of your case study on such a point). Don’t overdo it! Many students tend to write responses that are completely irrelevant to the question.
  3. Jot down minimum 3 points before writing (if you are experienced you can just make a mental note of the points rather than writing them down).
  4. Be specific NOT VAGUE: If you are to write on the causes of a volcanic eruption and one of the points on your bulleted list is plate movement, don’t write: The eruption of XYZ volcano was caused by plate movement. Instead say, The eruption of volcano XYZ (on day ABC/ month DEF/ year GHI) was caused by movement along the Eurasian and North American Plates.
  5. Don’t slack off after the intro. Continue to make these high quality statements. Preferably sandwich lower quality statements between two high quality statements or put them at the end. Always start with your strongest point (so you impress the examiner right away).
  6. Include some place specific reference. This goes hand in hand with the point of specificity and usually happens automatically. All you do is present some fact about your case study can usually only apply to the object you are writing about. This can be the name of a place, a certain date, a statistic (mainly for population), a date (for a hazard), etc.
  7. Be sure to check your answer using the mark scheme and examiner report. These documents tell you precisely what mistakes most students made in the exam and often provide suggestions on how you can improve. See if there is any more information you can incorporate next time.

You can find a list of the most common case studies (including place specific reference and details) right here and here.

In the exam hall…

Leere Prüfungsraum

Be sure to follow the guidelines above, but with practise you may be able to emit some of the steps. Especially, you may not have the time to meticulously plan each response. But if you know the material and you have practised enough you should be alright.

What do you do if a new case study comes up?

If there is a case study you have not studied in class, see whether you can answer a different question of the paper. Yes? Go for that. No! Don’t panic and start bluffing. Using just the theory you have learnt you can score up to 5 marks even without an example. If you want a higher score, just start bluffing and try to think of a suitable example and case specific reference. Invent it, if necessary, because examiners don’t deduct marks for you being wrong and if you are lucky they may not check on your reference (as long as it sounds feasible: you may score the marks.