IB Geography (HL and SL)

Course description

IB Geography is designed to provide pupils with a broad and comprehensive understanding of the interactions between individuals, societies and the physical environment. The course adopts a conceptual approach with an emphasis on physical processes, places, stakeholder powers and future possibilities. Pupils will investigate these interactions at a variety of temporal and spatial scales, as well as develop an appreciation for the diversity of perspectives, attitudes and beliefs that govern human behaviour.

The course covers an exciting range of key contemporary geographical issues and challenges to equip candidates with a knowledgeable and balanced international outlook. Underlying themes include the ‘circular economy’, ‘disruptive technologies’ and ‘nexus thinking’ and these are incorporated into key contemporary geographical issues such as inequality, sustainability, climate change and – particularly at HL – globalisation. The syllabus is of an inherently topical nature which provides a challenging and varied course at both Higher and Standard level. The Higher Level course is distinguished from the Standard Level course primarily by the addition of the “Global Perspectives – Global Interactions” paper which involves an in-depth study of globalisation and its variety of economic, social, environmental and political manifestations; as well as a third option choice in Paper 1 (see below).

Geography challenges opinions, broadens the mind and sharpens key skills. Few subjects can boast the same breadth and contemporary relevance. IB Geography is thus another step in the exciting journey to becoming an engaged global citizen.

All students enjoy a three day fieldwork residential field trip designed to develop their practical and enquiry skills through fieldwork. The aim is to prepare and collect data for the Internal Assessment (IA) but the students are  also deepen their understanding of concepts they have studied by observing and experiencing them in reality. In 2020 the trip ran to Barcelona.


A genuine interest in the subject matter – i.e. a keenness to read widely, be aware of contemporary, topical issues in the news and to pursue areas of interest in a bit more depth – is a characteristic of the most successful Geographers.

We would expect most students taking Geography in the Sixth Form to have achieved at least a 7 in their GCSE to enable them to access the demands of the course, although this is not a prerequisite. On the very odd occasion we might consider taking a student who has not studied Geography in the 4th and 5th form, providing they can demonstrate the correct motivation and have a track record of academic success.

Geographers typically study a wide variety of other subjects so it is well-suited to the IB, equally at home in a science-focussed combination for a prospective Medic or scientist as well as in combination with other humanities such as Economics, Politics and History. The unique feature of Geography is the breadth of skills it develops, and hence it can complement a wide range of subjects,

Assessment structure

  • Paper 1: Geographical Themes (a choice of two options at SL and three options at HL including Freshwater, Oceans and Coastal Margins, Extreme Environments, Geophysical Hazards, Food & Health, Urban Environments) (SL: 1 hour 30 minutes exam, 35% weighting; HL: 2 hours 15 minutes exam, 35% weighting).
  • Paper 2: Geographical Perspectives – Global Change (SL: 1 hour 15 minutes exam, 40% weighting; HL: 1 hours 15 minutes exam, 25% weighting).
  • Paper 3: Global Perspectives – Global Interactions (HL only: 1 hour exam, 20% weighting)
  • Internal Assessment (coursework) – 20% for HL; 25% for SL

Potential careers

Geography is a highly-valued subject and studying Geography at university can unlock a wide variety of careers which is virtually unparalleled in its breadth. Geographers are always in demand as a consequence of the skills they have acquired and The Guardian (13th August 2015) recently billed it as the “must-have A level” for the following reasons: “Geography is a subject for our times. It is inherently multidisciplinary in a world that increasingly values people who have the skills needed to work across the physical and social sciences… all these are not just intrinsically interesting and valuable. They also encourage ways of seeing and thinking that make geographers eminently employable, which is why, according to the latest information from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, only 5.8% of geography graduates were still job-hunting six months after they graduated, against an average of 7.3%”. So, beyond explicitly academic career, be it management consultancy or investment banking; law or urban planning; geologist or politician; meteorologist or journalist; the world is your oyster if you are a Geographer!

Pupil testimonies

“I chose Geography because it has always been a passion of mine. It’s such a broad and diverse subject – applicable to almost every career and at the basis of many other disciplines, from international relations to microbiology.”

Ophelia (C)

“The IB course is much more varied, from drug trafficking to the politics behind FIFA. Moreover, even topics that are predominately physical such as freshwater still involve a large element of human geography, like evaluating the ways to combat water scarcity or the economics behind the construction of dams. I chose Geography since it’s the subject that best encapsulates the real world.”

Tilly (A)

Speaking to people in the year above who were taking IB geography and seeing their passion for it convinced me that geography would be interesting, whilst being fun and exciting. I have always enjoyed geography and so it made sense for me to take subjects which I have enjoyed in the past. Geography has been one of my most enjoyable lessons because of the variation in content and how unlike other subjects, content we are learning can be seen and applied in the real-world, making it a relevant and fascinating subject.”

Chris (Hl)

“I chose Geography in Sixth Form predominantly due to the fact that it encapsulates so many interesting disciplines like economics, politics, biology and history, all within one subject. As the study of the world around us, Geography is extremely current and is constantly changing, making it the most interesting subject to study in the Sixth Form.”

Rahul (T)

“Studying Geography gives you the opportunity to explore some of the big issues facing the world at present, and in particular how we manage these issues. It’s not just case study facts. You study a range of dynamic and thought provoking topics, which include: the process of migration, natural disasters and the management of Earth’s resources.”

Olivier (M)

“I chose geography at Sixth Form as it was a subject that I really enjoyed at GCSE level. I found that it tied many subjects together, particularly biology and economics, and was very relatable to current affairs. Geography is an ever changing subject that is becoming more and more relevant as issues such as climate change and food security are being amplified. The course builds upon the many of the key concepts at GCSE but encourages greater evaluation of these concepts.”

Louis (Pn)

“I chose Geography in the sixth form to continue to develop my curiosity in the world around me, and because I loved learning about the subject at GCSE.”

Flo (A)

Contact for further information

Mr TAJ Rothwell, Head of Geography (tajr@wellingtoncollege.org.uk)

Link to the IB Geography full specification and summary