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GCSE Geography is theoretically available to external candidates, but all GCSE Geography specifications have field work requirements which have to be authenticated by the exam centre. In practice this may be hard to arrange. Home educators usually take International GCSE (IGCSE) Geography, which is written exams only. You should still carry out fieldwork as it will aid your understanding of the subject and the exam will include questions on how it could be carried out, but it does not need to be signed off by the exam centre.

Available Qualifications

Home-educators usually take IGCSE Geography because it offers an exam-only option, and is well-respected and a good preparation for A-level. IGCSE Geography is offered by CIE and Edexcel.

For 2018 winter exams, the current CAIE IGCSE specification is available. Edexcel IGCSE Geography is only available in the summer.

For summer 2019 exams, Edexcel IGCSE Geography will be the new 9-1 IGCSE syllabus, while CAIE should be the current specification. The new GCSEs will have been tried and may seem less of a gamble for external candidates.

New 9-1 GCSE Geography was first examined in Summer 2018.

New 9-1 GCSEs

The new GCSEs are, in theory, available to external candidates, but the drawback is that the first year of candidates would be in that guinea-pig group taking it for the first time, so there would be no past papers to work from and fewer online resources from teachers. The new AQA GCSE syllabus states that it is available to private candidates; the others will probably be too, but have not yet been reviewed for this page.

Ofqual has specified that Head teachers must sign a formal declaration for each GCSE Geography candidate regarding fieldwork: ‘The fieldwork statement will be a true and accurate statement that each Learner taking the specification assessment has undertaken appropriate geographical fieldwork.’ . You would need to discuss with the centre whether they would do this. You could come up with ways to provide evidence. For instance, you might take lots of photos, or attend an organised fieldwork session at a Field Studies Council centre, which lots of home edders have done. However, you would still need to confirm that the head of the exam centre would actually sign this off for you, as some may not wish to.

Current IGCSEs are tried, tested and respected, so are a good equivalent to GCSE for this subject.

AQA GCSE Geography

Exam code: 8035

The fieldwork element is not controlled assessment. A booklet is released 3 months before the exam so you can study the material in depth and, for AQA, paper 3 is on this material. You also have to do at least 2 fieldwork days & the head of centre has to sign a form confirming this. AQA suggest that private candidates show evidence of what they've done or get a tutor to confirm, so that the head of centre can sign .

AQA's information for private candidates says:

This qualification is available to private candidates with the following condition:


Centres accepting private candidates must submit a non-exam assessment and fieldwork centre declaration form. The declaration may be completed following either the presentation of evidence by the candidate and questioning about the fieldwork enquiry, or by a teacher from the centre supervising the candidate's fieldwork activity. Fieldwork must take place outside school grounds on two separate occasions.

Related Qualifications

Related qualifications include:

  • Environmental Management IGCSE (CIE)
  • Global Citizenship IGCSE (Edexcel)
  • Development Studies IGCSE (CIE)

There is a Facebook group for home educators studying these overlapping subjects: EM, GC and DS IGCSEs for Home Educators

Which syllabus for Geography?

Here are some comments from the HE Exams yahoogroup:

"Having done CIE geography with my eldest son last year, we have the choice this year of doing Edexcel or CIE with tutor groups, so I have looked at both to weigh them up. 

It used to be that because of the structure of the exam papers there was less content to learn for Edexcel (you could choose between topics). With CIE, although you have some choice on the paper, you pretty much have to learn everything on the syllabus along with all the relevant case studies or risk not being able to attempt questions. This is probably still the case. 

However, it's worth noting that the Edexcel syllabus has recently changed and imo the new format of Edexcel papers makes the exam less straightforward. Some of the Edexcel questions have parts that are worth 9 marks - ie. they require a substantial answer. This is fine if your child is a competent writer, but the 6- or 7-mark subsections of CIE questions are a lot less daunting for someone who struggles with writing. My eldest son even got away with answering some with bullet points :) 

From the few new papers I've seen of Edexcel ( there aren't many! ) I also think that the high-mark questions for Edexcel are more ambiguous than those of CIE. CIE questions are quite highly structured. Even those that aren't are generally explicit about what is needed to answer the question in terms of subject and case study. Most of them start 'For a named country/river/area you have studied, explain/show how...'

Edexcel is just one paper. Imo that is a lot of eggs in one basket! CIE is 3 papers. The map paper and practical/fieldwork paper can be relatively straightforward once you know what you are doing (even though it's tricky to get hold of the maps to practice the map questions). The fieldwork paper in particular seems to have similar style questions each year, so if you practice enough papers you should do fine.

As someone has already mentioned, CIE has a lot of past papers. I think there are very few for the new-style Edexcel exam. For us, despite the increased content my son will have to learn for CIE, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

If your exam centre offers both boards, have a look at some past papers from the different boards and see what you think. "

Another comment:

"We chose CIE because I thought 3 shorter exams would suit my son better. Also one of the papers it is very possible to get full marks which helps confidence-wise."

Geography teacher's thoughts on CIE IGCSE Geography versus GCSE.

CIE ( Cambridge ) IGCSE Geography

CIE IGCSE Geography is available to private candidates and has an 'alternative to fieldwork' paper.  There are 4 possible papers and you have to take three of them. Of these 4 possible papers, paper 3 is fieldwork/coursework, so home-ed students can't take it; they take paper 1 (lots of theory), paper 2 (lincludes some mapwork) and paper 4 (alternative to fieldwork).

When you look at CIE past papers, you will see that there are 3 versions of every paper, so that students in different time zones can sit different exams.  This is great as it means you have 3 times the past papers to practise on.  They are numbered with a 1, 2 or 3 after the paper number, so for instance, the three versions of Paper 1 would be 0460/11 , 0460/12 and 0460/13 while the versions of paper 2 would be 0460/21, 0460/22 and 0460/23 .  

There are inserts to accompany each paper.  For papers 1 and 4, these are provided online wherever you download the past papers (look for "ins" in the filename).  However, the map extract for paper 2 is not usually available as a download - see below.

Collection of past papers up to November 2014

Collection of past papers for CIE IGCSE Geography - and see the vital Map Extracts bit below.

Map Extracts for CIE Geography IGCSE 0460

Since 2016 the 'new syllabus' has changed its map criteria and they are no longer only tropical locations. This means the OS copyright issues are largely overcome. Most of the map excerpts used since summer 2016 are for European locations and they are A3 format, so you can easily get them printed off at a local copy shop/anyone with an A3 printer. DO REMEMBER to set the scale to 100% (or ask the printer to print at 100% scale) otherwise you won't be able to do the cross section and grid ref questions accurately.

The information below relates to older map extracts/exams. The textbook information is still accurate.

CIE have a policy of only supplying these map extracts to exam centres because of Ordnance Survey copyright requirements, so if you want some for practice, you are supposed to ask your exam centre to request them and forward them to you. However, to avoid adding to the workload of the exam centre, some past map extracts have been made available to the HE Exams Yahoogroup.  (Update 07/01/2016: I have added .pdf scans of all available map extracts for CIE Geography IGCSE 0640 that are available. Namely, May / June 2011 - May / June 2015 and November 2011 - November 2014. Enjoy. clone 427) The book Essential Map Skills by Simon Ross provides plenty of mapwork practice to make up for the lack of past exam papers. No answers are available for this book - a geography teacher would be expected to know - but it is interesting and comprehensive.

Further resources:

Complete Geography for Cambridge IGCSE® by David Kelly et al. Student book for the course.  This book is a complete course in itself.

Cambridge Students resource list for CIE Geography.

Cambridge IGCSE Geography Ning - network of teachers sharing resources.

Geography All The Way - CIE resource page

Geography Pods - tailored to the CIE IGCSE syllabus. Has LOADS of activities, videos etc, like a free online course. The downside is that the web design takes some getting used to as the menus are hard to navigate.

Past map extracts for sharing amongst the HE Exams Yahoogroup.  

Essential Map Skills by Simon Ross provides plenty of mapwork practice to make up for the lack of past exam papers. No answers are available for this book - a geography teacher would be expected to know - but it is interesting and comprehensive.

Geography and History IGCSE Facebook Group

Comments from the HE-Exams list:

"CIE has an alternative to fieldwork paper and only the theoretical knowledge is examined. We found the practical info in the textbooks rather poor, but there are plenty of useful websites and practical mapwork skills workbooks helped my dd a lot (she gained an A* aged 13)"

Edexcel IGCSE Geography

Edexcel IGCSE Geography - new 9-1 specification with new exam format.

Edexcel Information Page for IGCSE Geography

First exams: Summer 2019

Available: Summer exams only.

Exam code: 4GE1

The exam format has changed significantly from the last specification. 2 papers, one on Physical Geography and one on Human Geography. Choice of topics.

Paper 1: Physical Geography

Examination of 1 hour and 10 minutes. Choose 2 out of 3 sections from:

  • • River environments
  • • Coastal environments
  • • Hazardous environments

Fieldwork from one of these topics

The questions are a mixture of multiple-choice, short-answer, data-response and open-ended questions.

Section A -Candidates choose two out of three questions on: river environments, coastal environments, hazardous environments.

Section B- Candidates choose one out of three fieldwork-related questions on: river environments, coastal environments, hazardous environments.

Paper 2: Human Geography

  • Economic activity and energy
  • Rural environments
  • Urban environments

Fieldwork from one of the first 3 topics

• Global issues (Fragile environments and climate change, Globalisation and migration, Development and human welfare)


Examination of 1 hour and 45 minutes, consisting of three sections. The questions are a mixture of multiple-choice, short-answer, data-response and open-ended questions.

Section A- Candidates choose two out of three questions on: economic activity and energy, ruralenvironments, urban environments.

Section B - Candidates choose one out of three fieldwork-related questions on: economic activity and energy, rural environments, urban environments.

Section C - Candidates choose one out of three questions on: fragile environments and climate change, globalisation and migration, development and human welfare.

Useful resources on Edexcel Information Page for IGCSE Geography - click on 'Course Materials', then on 'Teaching and Learning Materials' tab. Note particularly the following documents:

  • Course planner
  • Scheme of Work
  • Examiner marked exemplars, showing how exam papers are marked.
  • Fieldwork Guide

How do you do Fieldwork?

Comments from a Geography teacher on the HE Exams group:

For the Edexcel syllabus you would choose to answer a question C option that ties in with a topic that you have already answered - for example, you choose Rivers and Coasts as your two topics from section A (out of a choice of Rivers, Coasts and Hazards) then in Section C you must answer one fieldwork question relating to section A topics out of a choice of two questions.  So whichever two topics you study for section A then you need to be really familiar with the fieldwork options for those topics as you will need to answer on one of them.  As Nic has said, the Edexcel syllabus is reasonably specific about which investigations the student needs to be familiar with, and you can find lots of examples of how to go about investigations, from schools that do the coursework option, posted on the web.

The CIE fieldwork paper 4 can pose questions about investigations a student would be very unlikely to have undertaken (such as how the ecology in a tropical rainforest changes) - the point is that if a student really understands the fieldwork investigation model, they can apply it to any investigation.  In reality there is a limited range of equipment students are expected to know how to use so it is important to know what you would use to measure various attributes.   Otherwise doing lots and lots of past papers is invaluable and wherever possible experiencing some actual fieldwork always highlights the shortcomings and how a future investigation might be improved.

Simple investigations that require little equipment could be:

  • Traffic survey
  • Pedestrian flow count
  • Environmental quality survey - assessing things like street cleanliness, parking, building condition as you move from town centre to edge of town
  • Measuring width and depth of small stream as it travels downstream
  • Beach - measuring change in size and shape of pebbles up/down the beach or left/right of beach
  • Questionnaire - people's views on renewable v non-renewable power sources

Comments from other members of the group:

"We have been preparing for this exam and the fieldwork is an issue. The Edexel endorsed text book makes hardly any reference to it. But there is a whole section of the paper on field work. As far as I can make out from the specification and teachers material available on the Edexel website, the expectation is that the students will do about 8 real or virtual fieldwork studies and thereby gain enough experience and understanding to answer questions about fieldwork in the paper. The lack of past papers makes it hard to gauge what those questions will be like.

I have found a book called Geographical Enquiries, skills and techniques for geography by Garrett Nagle and Kris Spencer, which we are using and hopefully that will mean we have covered most bases. We have also done a field study for each topic as we have studied it, which make it more interesting I think."

"..We've just bought a couple of older books which look like they have some info - Fieldwork Techniques and Projects in Geography by Barnaby Lenon & Paul Cleeves, and Geography Fieldwork Projects by Jennifer Frew (which looks quite promising) and hope to go out on a field study for the topics we are doing! I bought the books cheaply off Amazon (I don't suppose the techniques change much over the years!)"

"My daughter just sat the exam in May/June 2013 - she got a B.
We didn't do a lot of fieldwork practice - because she was doing coasts we went down to the beach and did a study comparing pebble size between the front shore and back shore (only because I felt we really should do something).  As for the other topics, we just looked at what you could do for fieldwork from books.  We found the book 'Geography Fieldwork Projects' by Jennifer Frew very helpful - it is an old book, but gives lots of helpful advice on how to undertake various fieldwork topics and the names of certain equipment needed.  We couldn't run our Edexcel cd on our linux system at home, so didn't look at this much at all.  

Royal Geographical Society - Quick & Easy Fieldwork Ideas:

River Darent Virtual Fieldwork by David Rayner: very useful example fieldwork project. Hard to navigate, but if you go to the bottom left and click on 'Fieldwork techniques and equipment', you'll see a useful page.  There is more - but again, navigation is not intuitive. Fieldwork techniques and Equipment.  At the end of this page , click on 'Forward' at the bottom of the page.  This takes you to more fieldwork techniques.  Measuring the size and angularity of stones in the riverbed looks like the sort of thing kids would enjoy as they could get soaked, muddy, and probably throw stones too.

Virtual Fieldwork by David Rayner - coastal erosion at Reculver, and sand dunes in North Wales. Online fieldwork projects that you can use as models for your own, or do your own project using photos and data from these locations. For each topic, click on the 'Virtual Fieldwork Tour' button and make sure you explore all parts of the site as lots of gems are hidden away.

Coastal Geography Fieldwork - Where to start!

Oxford Open Learning advice on Geography IGCSE fieldwork, including a Fieldwork Appendix to their course that they have made freely available online.

The Field Studies Council's Outdoor Classroom programme offers group fieldwork trips to educational groups, often as a day trip but sometimes over a longer period.  Several home-ed groups have arranged such workshops with them, and they may be advertised on the HE-Exams Yahoogroup or on local home-ed email groups.  If you are interested in arranging a trip, try posting on HE-Exams first to see if anyone else has one in the pipeline or has any tips for the site you are considering.


Field Studies Council have said that they are keen to work with home educators.  One group organised a successful field trip with the FSC at Malham Tarn in 2012. More details of their Fieldwork Study Days here.

Essential Map Skills by Simon Ross provides plenty of mapwork practice to make up for the lack of past exam papers. No answers are available for this book, but it is interesting and comprehensive. The Amazon description says "ICT exercises for Geography" but this is misleading; it's just mapwork.

Map Skills Revision slideshow - a nice presentation to brush up your skills.

Edexcel IGCSE Geography Ning independent network of teachers (and a few parents) sharing resources and advice.

Geography All The Way resources specifically for Edexcel IGCSE Geography.

InterHigh Geography Wiki - online school's resoures aimed at Edexcel IGCSE Geography

BBC Knowledge and Learning GCSE Geography Films

Earth Story DVD of documentary series about physical geography - really great.