Except for Papers 1 (theory) and 2 (map skills), you may also be required to sit for Paper 4. This page summarises the main skills that you will need to learn to triumph in the exam hall.

Answer all questions

Many students lose points because they overlook some of the questions (has happened to me as well). Therefore, be sure to check that you have not missed tasks by checking for the square brackets to the right of the paper (which indicate the number of points you get). This is particularly important on pages with many tables, diagrams, graphs or maps.

Know your theory

The most common topics covered in the alternative to practical exams are: coasts, rivers, settlement and weather (so make sure you’ve revised the theory on these sections.

Measuring at coast lines

landscape, sunset, beach
Beach profile

Beach profile is measured to survey the morphology (structure/elevation) of a beach and compare that to other beaches or coastlines, as well as examining correlation between beach processes and sediments.

  1. Appropriate sampling points are selected across the width of a beach at breaks of slope (changes in gradient)
  2. For each section between two sampling points, a clinometer and ranging rod are used to measure the slope angle (NB: points must be at identical height along the ranging rod, and ranging rods must be placed vertically into the ground.
  3. The distance between each section is measured using a tape measure, and the gradient is calculated.

This is best done at low tide and during stable weather conditions to ensure the safety of the surveyors.

Sediments size and structure may be recorded along different coast lines to investigate transport and erosion processes and the relationship between sediments and other factors such as beach profile. (the same method for sediment analysis applies to rivers)

  1. Sediments are selected using one of the sampling techniques, possibly by placing a quadrat on the beach along a transect.
  2. Calipers may be used to measure the length (long axis) of pebbles.
  3. An angularity chart or a pebbleometer may be used to investigate the roundness of the particles. (NB: an angularity chart is often subjective -different surveyors may come to different conclusions)
  4. The weight off a rock may be measured using electronic scales. Alternatively, the weight of a rock may be recorded uing a spring balance and a plastic bag. First, the weight of the empty plastic bag is recorded. Then the rock is put in the plastic bag, which is attached to the spring balance. The weight is read off from the scale and the total weight is subtracted from that of the plastic bag to find the weight of the rock.

Longshore drift may be measured to examine the transport of coastal material and predict the supply of sediments in future.

The “float” method may be used to measure longshore drift.

  1. A tape measure is laid out close to the water to mark start and finish points of the investigation (an appropriate distance should be selected beforehand)
  2. A float is placed in the water and the start mark.
  3. Direction and time of movement of the float is observed and recorded along the preset distance.

More detail on these fieldwork techniques can be found at the Royal Geographical Society.

Measuring river variables

Width and depth: Channel width can be measured by holding a tape measure across the channel from bank to bank. The wetted width is the channel width at water level, while bankful width refers to the distance from bank to bank. Channel depth is measured by using a ranging rod and measuring the depth of the river from water surface to bed on multiple locations across the channel and calculating the average.

The wetted perimeter is the length of the banks and bed that is in contact with the water. It is measured by recording the average depth and the wetted width.

Velocity: River velocity (rate of water movement varies across a stream): measured using a flow meter. A single measurement at 60% of the depth of the stream should be taken to supply a reliable average. The fastest part in the river channel is known as the Thalweg.

Flow meter, by Wtshymanski, CC BY-SA 3.0

Discharge (m³): cross-sectional area (m²) x velocity (m/s) Discharge normally increases downstream, as do width, depth and velocity.

Channel efficiency (measured by hydraulic radius): cross-sectional area/ wetted perimeter. The higher the hydraulic radius, the more efficiently the river transports its load

Gradient (slope): using ranging rods positioned equidistantly upstream and downstream of the cross- section sites and clinometer to measure slope angle.

Settlement surveys

city, traffic, people

Traffic count: Traffic counts can be performed to gain information on use of roads and means of travel, aiding urban planning.

  1. Find a suitable location or suitable transect.
  2. Use a tally chart to record different modes of transport

Identifying land use and function: Land use may be surveyed to establish boundaries of the CBD and identify management strategies to develop certain areas.

  1. Use a map of the city to select an appropriate transect for data collection.
  2. Classify different types of land use eg. industrial, residential, commercial
  3. Decide on a suitable sampling technique and record the data on the map.


From what I’ve seen looking at the past papers, most questions ask how weather instruments work or where they need to be sited.Also, you may be asked to interpret data (which is a major component of this paper).

Please refer to the notes on Weather, Climate and Ecosystems for how to use the weather instruments and Paper 2 for data representation.

Environmental surveys

Environmental surveys may be used to track pollution at a variety of sites. A scoring system would be devised to rate the intensity and impact of litter, noise and traffic on the surrounding area. For example, a decibel meter may be used to measure the noise level. Also, secondary data may be used, including researching the results of traffic counts.

Geographical equipment

A stopwatch is used to record time, eg. in traffic counts or in measuring velocity, in which it is used in conjunction with other equipment.

Zeit, Stoppuhr, Uhr, Stunden, Minuten, Sekunde, Hand

A compass is used to measure direction eg. of a course of a river or to see where the wind is coming from.

A tape measure is used to measure medium distances (between several metres to 30/50 metres). [the yellow thing used for measuring the distance in long jump]

A metre rule is used for measuring short distances eg. the depth of a river.

Callipers, by Joaquim Alves Gaspar, CC BY 2.5

Calipers are used to measure the width, length or height of small objects.

A pebbleometer is used to measure the angularity (roundness) of river materials.

Ranging rods are used to measure the depth of a river, or the angle of a slope with a clinometer. A clinometer is used to measure the angle of elevation (slope) by placing at eye level at a ranging rod (that stands vertically in the ground).The clinometer is directed to the other ranging rod at eyelevel, and the angle is read off.

Vegetation sampling using a quadrat, By Sagt (Flickr), CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Flowmeters are used for measuring the velocity of water eg. in rivers. Flow meters have a small propeller that is placed under the surface of the water. Movement of the propeller created a digital reading that notes the speed of the water.

A quadrat is a  square divided into many smaller squares. A quadrat is used for measuring vegetation cover or selecting samples along a river or beach.

Data collection

Often you will be asked to describe what methods have been used to collect certain data. In that case specify the equipment used, how measurements have been taken and how they have been recorded.

Primary vs. secondary data

When collecting data, we can distinguish between primary and secondary data.

Primary data is data that has been collected personally (by you or your team) using surveying or sampling methods. Examples include pedestrian counts, environmental indexes and questionnaires.

Primary data contains only the information you wanted to obtain and in the format you need. It should be up to date. On the other hand, primary data collection may time-consuming and information may be biased.

Secondary data is data that has been collected by another person or research team ie. information from books or the internet.

Secondary allows you to collect information from a larger sample or samples that would not usually be accessible to you, however it may be in the wrong format and contain too much materials. You may not know the source of the data and the collection method.

Types of samplingsample

There are three main types of sampling: random, systematic and stratified

In random sampling, a number generator or number chart is used to determine which samples  to survey. Each sample has equal chances of being selected. Random sampling avoids bias, as opposed to systematic sampling and is comparatively quick and simple. However, results may not be representative of the overall trend.

In systematic sampling, the samples are selected from a list of elements in a regular pattern (eg. every 4th sample). Systematic sampling gives better coverage of the sample group, however it may be biased (subjectivity of which pattern to follow) and the result may not be representative of the overall trend.

In stratified sampling the samples are divided into strata (categories) by some characteristics (eg. gender, location) Then a sample is taken either by random or systematic sampling. Systematic sampling is used to give a more representative result.


Questionnaire example.png
Questionnaire: closed and open-ended questions

Questionnaires may be conducted verbally or in written form. When constructing a questionnaire, it is very important to use the right structure and layout, as well as asking the right questions. Also, you need to choose on a sampling method before conducting a questionnaire survey.

A good questionnaire starts off with an introduction eg. We are from Bayport High School and for our geography classes we need to conduct a survey on … . Would you mind, if we ask you a few questions?

Questions should be organised in a logical manner. There are two types of questions: closed ended and open-ended. A good questionnaire will contain both closed and open-ended questions, so as to ask for the opinions of the participants, while also making the questions relevant and precise.

Closed-ended questions give a set possibility of answers, and participants usually tick their responses. Good closed-ended questions usually have one option saying “other”, should the participants not fit into any of the suggested categories. Closed ended questions are usually more subjective.

Open-ended questions allow the participants to formulate their own response. While this allows for more variety, data can be harder to display graphically and participants are more likely to give irrelevant responses.

Evaluating hypotheses

Evaluating hypotheses is one of the most scoring (and most common) questions on the paper. For each hypotheses:

  1. State whether it is true, partially true or false.
  2. Give a reason for your answer
  3. Use statistics to support your answer
  4. State any anomalies
  5. Support anomalies using figures (data)

How surveys can be improved

Each paper that I have seen so far, asks how survey (collection) methods can be improved. These are the most common answers, of which at least two should always be applicable.

  • Do counts more regularly e.g. every one or two hours
  • Do counts, surveys or indexes in more locations
  • Do counts, surveys and indexes on different days of the week (including weekends)
  • Get two groups doing the same survey, index or count so that an average may be taken