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Non-exam assessment

Students completing fieldwork

This new component presents an opportunity to help students become geographers – by developing their first-hand investigative and research skills. But it will also be a challenge – particularly for teachers who do not have experience of non-exam assessment (NEA) at this level. The focus of a student’s independence will be on (with one interpretation of what this means for study in italics):

  • defining and developing their own question or issue
    (students know how to pose meaningful and challenging geographical research questions; they understand how these relate to the content they have learned/are learning; they understand how and why the question relates to a specific fieldwork or place context)
  • collecting data
    (why they selected specific approaches, including the reason for individual or group work approaches; understand their methodology and how it relates to/provides appropriate data for their investigation; understanding the limitations and particle nature of primary data)
  • gathering their own secondary data and incorporating this into their report
    (knowing and understanding secondary research sources and methodologies; connecting secondary data to their investigation and relating secondary data to primary, including resolving any apparent contradictions)
  • independently contextualising, analysing and drawing conclusions
    (relating their study to their knowledge and understanding of geography content; drawing out concepts and conclusions; using appropriate analytical tools).

All of the above implies considerable skills in researching and report writing, with the outcome a written report of several thousand words. Developing these skills throughout the secondary phase, not waiting until A level to do so, will be essential. Students will need to be taught how to pose relevant questions for investigation, and a range of techniques for conducting both primary and secondary research.

You’ll need to consider whether you use perhaps two days in the earlier stages of A level to develop the skills of investigation which will later be required. This approach would allow you to use at least two days later on to support the collection of primary data for independent study.


Brand (2020) – ‘Capturing a ‘sense of place’ through fieldwork’, Teaching Geography

GA/RGS-IBG Joint letter  – The A level Awarding Organisations have highlighted that Independent Investigations which are significantly more than the recommended word count of 3–4000 words can be self-penalising. The GA and RGS-IBG have written a joint letter supporting the need for students to write well-argued and concise investigations which meet the word length guidance.

This Geographical skills booklet (GA members only) looks at some useful resources and ideas for teaching the geographical skills elements of A level.

This article (GA members only) considers how to manage the independent investigation.

Guide to developing titles and completing the proposal form has been produced by the Awarding Organisations to support the initial stages of the Independent Investigation. It contains a joint letter from the GA and RGS-IBG explaining what is meant by ‘independence’ and why the Independent Investigation is important as well as top tips and examples of completed proposal forms with commentary.

FSC guide to geographical investigations – a guide designed to support students through the processes of planning, collecting and presenting data, analysis and evaluation. Produced by the FSC and Open University with support from the GA, it provides brief explanations of key aspects and techniques which A level students embarking on their Independent Investigation may find useful.

A simple question generator can be used by both teachers and students to create questions relating to a case study, some content or an environment. It can be particularly powerful for the independent investigation where students may struggle to devise questions which are suitable for study. Once students have come up with questions for each cell of the grid and see the range of questions that can be asked, they may be more able to discern what makes a ‘good’ question for investigation. The colours shown on the example could be used as a starting point for this discussion: red questions are likely to be too limiting whilst yellow are likely to be too complex and it is likely that students will get the richest questions for their investigation from the green column.

For information, advice and resources on fieldwork go to our Fieldwork teaching resources section.


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