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Exploring Our Planet: Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography


Geography is “the study of the diverse environments, places, and spaces of Earth’s surface and their interactions” (Britannica). It is basically the study of the world, particularly people, the natural environment and their relationships. It teaches young people to understand the world they are a part of and how their and other’s contributions and actions can have positive and negative impacts.

This fascinating subject provides insights into our interactions with the planet, ecosystems, other species and each other over time and how everything is interconnected. It can help make sense of what is happening globally and the various challenges we face, e.g. social injustices, human conflicts, overconsumption of resources, natural disasters, health disparities, diseases, climate change, etc. It also increases understanding of how it is a fundamental part of our everyday lives.

The qualification, IGCSE Geography, has key geography concepts which can increase understanding of this subject and help students develop vital knowledge and skills to help them in further education, future careers and life. This blog post will explore key concepts from the IGCSE Geography curriculum. It will cover the main areas learners will study and how to prepare for their examinations.

Exploring Our Planet Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography

An Overview of IGCSE Geography

An IGCSE, International General Certificate of Secondary Education, was introduced in 1988, two years after GCSEs. It is an internationally recognised qualification usually taught at international or private schools and is also available from online course providers.

Students often undertake this qualification during their secondary education, but it is available for people of all ages. It is an international version of GCSE qualifications without a UK-centric curriculum or context. While these qualifications are designed for international students, they are also available to students in the UK.

There are over 70 IGCSE subjects (Cambridge Assessment International Education). IGCSE Geography is one of the subjects offered by various examination boards, such as CAIE, Pearson Edexcel, Oxford AQA and LRN International. It is a subject that aims to help enhance learners’ understanding of the physical world and human environments. It is hugely relevant to education, as some concepts learned in IGCSE Geography cross over into other subjects, such as science, maths, sociology and history. Also, it:

  • Provides an awareness of global issues, including environmental, climate change, cultural and social, and the challenges of ensuring a sustainable future.
  • Enhances knowledge and understanding of the main geographical concepts and how they relate to a changing world.
  • Helps develop essential skills which will help in further education and work, such as:
  • Hard skills, e.g. practical geographical enquiry (fieldwork), atlas, map, cartographic, spatial awareness, data collection/interpretation, numerical, statistical and graphical.
  • Soft skills, e.g. critical and logical thinking, problem-solving, presentation, analysis, investigation and evaluation.
  • Enables students to learn effectively and independently.
  • Provides fieldwork scenarios that help develop and apply knowledge to the real world.
  • Increases understanding of how geography shapes our lives.
  • Enables students to appreciate different views and attitudes regarding the world, environments, cultures and issues.

The structure of the IGCSE Geography curriculum will depend on the examination board, but the concepts and content are pretty standardised and are designed to follow the national curriculum. For example, the Pearson Edexcel IGCSE Geography syllabus is a linear qualification, meaning that students will undertake their examinations at the end of the course. Students are assessed via two written exams and practical coursework, and the syllabus (specification) covers two main areas – physical and human geography:

Physical geography

Students will study environments and landscapes, and the content includes:

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

Examinations are 1 hour and 10 minutes and consist of two sections. During exams, students will choose two out of three questions in section A and one out of three fieldwork-related (investigation) questions in section B. The questions are based on the above topics.

Human geography

Students will study societies, cultures and economies, and the content includes the following:

  • Economic activity and energy.
  • Rural environments.
  • Urban environments.

Examinations are 1 hour and 45 minutes. During exams, students will choose two out of three questions in section A and one out of three fieldwork-related questions in section B. The questions are based on the above topics.

There is also a section C where students must choose one out of three questions on the following global issues:

  • Fragile environments and climate change.
  • Globalisation and migration.
  • Development and human welfare.
Exploring Our Planet Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography

Physical Geography

Physical geography is one of the main areas in IGCSE Geography. It covers the natural environment, phenomena, processes and patterns, including how landscapes are created and altered and the different ecosystems on Earth. It also looks at the relationships between physical parts of the Earth, such as the air, land, water and living organisms.

Learning about key physical geography concepts helps focus students’ learning and allows them to connect various topics and explore relationships to make better sense of them. When students learn about river, coastal and hazardous environments in IGCSE Geography, they cover landforms, ecosystems and climate.


According to the British Geological Survey, “landforms are features on the Earth’s surface that make up the terrain”. They can be natural or artificial and include:

  • Mountains.
  • Valleys.
  • Plains.
  • Plateaux
  • Coastal features, e.g. bays or peninsulas.
  • Underwater features, e.g. mid-ocean ridges and ocean basins.
  • River features, e.g. waterfalls, meanders, oxbow lakes and flood plains.

Many different landforms shape the land and makeup landscapes. A landscape is part of Earth’s surface viewed at one time from one place. It consists of the geographic features that mark, or are characteristic of, a particular area.

Landscapes can be formed and altered by various processes over time and shaped by rivers, the sea, glaciation and human activities.

In the river and coastal environment topics in IGCSE physical geography, students will:

  • Explore the hydrological cycle, physical processes and human intervention, which create distinctive river landforms.
  • Explore the characteristics and causes of coastal landforms, e.g. physical processes and human intervention.
  • Identify landforms and human features of the landscape, helping them develop map and graphical skills.
  • Learn how river landscapes change over the course of a river, with distinctive upland and lowland landforms.


“An ecosystem is a natural environment and includes the flora (plants) and fauna (animals) that live and interact within that environment” (BBC Bitesize). Ecosystems consist of:

  • Biotic components – are living parts of an ecosystem, e.g. flora, fauna and bacteria.
  • Abiotic components – are non-living parts of an ecosystem, e.g. climate, soil and water.

There are numerous ecosystems on Earth and relationships between biotic and abiotic components, which make up biomes, such as woodlands, deserts, rainforests, tundra and savannah.

There are numerous threats to ecosystems, both natural and human-made, for example, climate change, industrialisation, agricultural practices, tourism and deforestation.

In the river and coastal environment topics in IGCSE physical geography, students will:

  • Investigate threats to, and the management of, coastal ecosystems in a developed and a developing/emerging country.
  • Study distinctive ecosystems along particular stretches of coastline. They will look at the distributions and features of the world’s coastal ecosystems (coral reefs, mangroves, sand dunes and salt marshes).
  • Look at the biotic and abiotic characteristics of a coastal ecosystem.
  • Use world maps to show the distribution of coastal ecosystems.
  • Cover detailed case studies of river and coastal management.


Weather occurs over a short period, such as hours and days. According to the MET Office, climate is the general weather over a long period, i.e. years or decades, and includes rainfall, temperature, snow or any other weather condition.

The climate can be affected by many factors, such as:

  • Distance from the sea.
  • Aspect.
  • Latitude.
  • Altitude.
  • Wind.

Many climate types exist, such as polar, temperate, Mediterranean, arid, tropical and mountain (BBC Bitesize). With a changing climate comes various challenges, such as flooding, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, risk to water supplies and many others.

In the river, coastal and hazardous environment topics in IGCSE physical geography, students will:

  • Consider how climate and other factors affect fluvial processes involved in river valley and river channel formation.
  • Causes of coastal flooding (storm surges, tsunamis, climate change) and the prediction and prevention of flooding (forecasting, building design, planning and education).
  • Look at how physical processes, such as weathering, give rise to characteristic river and coastal landforms.
  • Use weather and climate data and charts.
  • Investigate the physical processes involved in an extreme weather event.

In the global issues section of the syllabus, students will also cover fragile environments and climate change and will look at those under threat, the impacts and some example responses.

Key physical geography concepts can be applied to the real world, and here are some examples:

  • Understanding what ecosystems are, the different types and the relationships can help manage them and mitigate threats, keeping them healthy and benefiting humans and other organisms on the planet.
  • We are seeing more flooding globally, and understanding river and coastal features and environments and the hydrological cycle can help develop flood prevention and management strategies, e.g. forecasting, building design, planning and education.
  • Climate change is a hot topic, and for good reason. Information on this concept can be used to investigate climate patterns, rising sea levels and glacial retreats, which can help predict future climate scenarios and develop climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
  • Earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms are hazards that humans and other species face and can be life-threatening. Understanding hazardous environments can help develop warning systems, keep people and animals safe, and mitigate the impacts of these events.
Exploring Our Planet Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography

Human Geography

Human geography studies how people, places and the environment relate and interact. It has everything to do with human activities, from population change and urbanisation to cultural diversity. It considers spatial relationships, our impacts and influences on the environment, how it can affect our lives and the hazards and problems we face.


Population refers to the number of people living in a particular country, area or town. This concept in geography studies human populations and their distribution, density and movements. It considers where people live, why they live in particular locations, why they move and where they migrate to. It also considers the influences on populations, reasons for changes and managing populations. For example, there has to be sufficient resources for people to live somewhere comfortably.

In all of the key concepts in IGCSE human geography, students will:

  • Look at the relationship between population and resources.
  • Learn about different theories to explain the relationship between population and resources.
  • Consider how energy demand and production vary globally and are affected by a range of factors, such as population growth.
  • Use and interpret line graphs showing changes in population and resources over time.
  • Look at characteristics of a rural environment, including settlement and population.
  • Look at factors leading to rural changes in a named developing country or emerging country, such as population growth and rural-urban migration.
  • Use and interpret population pyramids.
  • Learn about the causes of desertification and deforestation, such as population pressure.
  • Use and interpret line graphs showing past and predicted global population growth and population in relation to likely resources.
  • Use and interpret graphs to show rates of population movement over the past 50 years.
  • Learn about how countries at different levels of development have differences in their demographic data.
  • Use online census sources to obtain population and local geodemographic information.


Urbanisation is an increase in the number living in urban areas, such as towns and cities. It can result from people moving from rural areas to urban and the urbanisation of rural areas that lose their character and way of life. The rate of urbanisation is affected by many factors, such as birth and death rates, urban and rural development, employment opportunities, healthcare access, advances in transport and improvements in an area.

In the rural environments and urban environments topics in IGCSE human geography, students will:

  • Look at the factors leading to rural changes in a named developed country: rural isolation, decline in farm employment, tourist pressures, suburbanisation, counter-urbanisation, and the negative multiplier effect.
  • Consider contrasting trends in urbanisation over the last 50 years in different parts of the world, including suburbanisation and counter-urbanisation processes.
  • Learn about the factors affecting the rate of urbanisation and the emergence of megacities.
  • Consider the problems associated with rapid urbanisation: congestion, transport, employment, crime and environmental issues.
  • Use world maps to show the trends in urbanisation over the last 50 years.
  • Interpret photographs and different maps (paper or online) to investigate the impact of rapid urbanisation.

Cultural diversity

Cultural diversity is also known as multiculturalism. It is where many ethnic or cultural groups live within a society and can be influenced by many factors, such as religious beliefs, race, gender, age, language, food, history, dress, music, festivals and celebrations (BBC Bitesize).

Cultural diversity is an important part of human geography as it looks at various aspects of human culture and their locations and arrangements globally. It can help geographers understand:

  • How culture, race and ethnicity shape our world.
  • How living in specific geographical regions can impact how people live and behave.
  • The differences and similarities of people and their customs.
  • The influences on how cultures interact, especially when requiring food and shelter.
  • How culture spreads across the world and the impacts it can have, e.g. conflicts with other cultures.

The Geographical Association has further information on cultural diversity here.

In IGCSE human geography, students will look at:

  • Different factors contribute to the development and human welfare of a country, including cultural.
  • The varying structures of a country’s population, including cultural aspects.

The impact of human activities on the environment and society

In IGCSE geography, students will cover global issues, such as fragile environments and climate change, globalisation and migration, development and human welfare. Some of these issues are caused by human activities, which can have significant impacts on the environment and society, for example:

  • Climate change – is the process of our planet heating up, which causes global weather changes. There can be natural causes, e.g. Milankovitch cycles, solar variation and volcanism. Human actions, such as industry, transport, energy, and farming, can contribute to climate change and enhance the greenhouse effect. Climate change can have many impacts, including:
  • Rising sea levels.
  • Increased hazards.
  • Flooding.
  • Ecosystem changes.
  • Reduced employment.
  • Biodiversity loss.
  • Water scarcity.
  • Food insecurity.
  • Displacement of people.
  • Increased migration and conflicts.
  • Desertification – “is the process of land turning into desert as the quality of the soil declines over time” (BBC Bitesize). Human actions can cause desertification, e.g. drought, population pressure, fuel supply, overgrazing and migration. It can have many impacts, such as reduced agricultural output, malnutrition, famine and migration.
  • Deforestation – is the clearing or thinning of forests on a large scale. Human causes include commercial timber extraction, agriculture, mining, transport, settlement and HEP (hydroelectric power). Deforestation can have many impacts, such as loss of biodiversity, contribution to climate change, economic development and increased soil erosion.
  • Globalisation – is “the increasing connectedness and interdependence of world cultures and economies” (National Geography). It can have positive impacts, as it creates a more connected world, with increased movements of goods (trade) and people (migration and tourism) worldwide. However, it can also have negative impacts, such as loss of cultural identity, labour drain, cheap labour, loss of small businesses, pollution, environmental impacts, global inequality and many others.
  • Development – is the improvements that countries make, e.g. ensuring people can access clean water by improving water structure. Although development can be positive and enhance human welfare, it can also be uneven between and within countries. It can have many impacts, e.g. poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and physical infrastructure.
Exploring Our Planet Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography

Case Studies and Practical Applications

Geography is not just about knowing where countries are or the names of various seas. Geography concepts shape our daily lives. It helps us decide where to live, the direction in which to travel to work and where to go on holiday. It also helps to assess and monitor natural hazards and mitigate disasters.

Here are some examples of how geography concepts are applied in real-life situations:

  • Navigation – planning routes and getting from one place to another, whether driving, flying, sailing, walking or cycling, will require knowledge of locations, spatial orientation and maps. GPS (Global Positioning System) is widely used in navigation devices such as satnavs. Geography helps us plan routes and navigate effectively to find our way.
  • Urban planning – involves designing and developing cities and towns, which geographical concepts can influence. Geography helps urban planners understand how people interact with their environment and the needs of a community to provide suitable infrastructure, spaces, transport, amenities, etc.
  • Choosing a place to live – when people plan to move to a new location, whether it is locally, regionally, nationally or internationally, they will look at many geography-related factors. They will consider the area (urban or rural), the landscape, the proximity of amenities and activities relating to where they will live, the climate, transport network, culture, population density, etc.
  • Weather forecasting – geography concepts help meteorologists understand weather patterns and provide daily, weekly and monthly forecasts. It helps us know what to wear when we go outside and plan for hazardous weather. It also helps farmers make agricultural decisions affecting their crops and livestock.
  • Health – geography is also linked with health, i.e. location of birth, access to food, water and healthcare, and our environment (Dummer, 2008). It is also vital in disease prevention/monitoring and public health strategies. Take the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. It required the examination of data and the geographical spread of the virus (Geographical Association).

We face unprecedented global challenges, such as climate change, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction and deforestation. Understanding these concepts can contribute to solving and mitigating these issues, as they help understand natural systems and processes, the impact of human activities and the environmental consequences. For example, understanding climate change can help geographers and scientists understand the potential impacts and identify measures to mitigate the effects.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Technology

Technology is advancing quickly, and we are living in a digital age. Therefore, it has a significant role in modern geography. It has allowed us to access information more quickly, enhanced geographical learning and enriched the discipline of geography (Sui & Morrill, 2004).

Technology has been instrumental in the development of geospatial technologies, such as:

  • Geographic Information System (GIS) – “a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface” (National Geographic). It combines spatial information with other data to map, analyse and assess real-world problems. The Geographical Association has further information on geospatial technologies and GIS here.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) – is a satellite-based radio navigation system used to track movements, assist navigation and accurately map out geographic features. GPS is in everyday objects, such as smartphones, watches and cars, for navigation and monitoring. National Geographic has further information on GPS here.
  • Remote sensing – is where geographers obtain information about the physical characteristics of objects or areas on the Earth’s surface from a distance, usually using aircraft or satellites. It has various purposes, such as tracking natural hazards, e.g. earthquakes and flooding, and mapping landscape changes. NASA has further information on this here.

Technology enhances data collection, analysis, and decision-making in geography as it:

  • Enables data, maps and graphs to be manipulated and analysed more quickly, highlights various features and observes them at different scales through computer systems.
  • Helps handle larger data sets, providing deeper insights into various issues and helps inform decision-making processes.
  • Increases accuracy and accessibility, which enhances knowledge and understanding of physical and human geography.
  • Allows data to be collected remotely, reducing the need to travel for field surveys and saving time, resources and costs.
  • Provides new methods and techniques to gather and analyse data as technological advancements are gathering pace, especially with artificial intelligence (AI).

It is important to note that although technology has brought about many benefits and has an essential role in modern geography, understanding how to use maps and atlases is still important.

The Geographical Association has further information on technology in geography here.

Exploring Our Planet Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography

Preparing for IGCSE Geography Examinations

Exam preparation is essential to alleviate stress and anxiety and give students the best possible chances of success in their IGCSE geography examinations. Here are some tips and strategies that can help:

  • Start revising early – it is essential to start revising as early as possible, not leave it until the last minute and try to cram. Students will have more time to cover more material and reinforce geography concepts.
  • Set goals – setting goals is essential in time management and organisation. Students could set SMART goals that align with their needs. They should start with smaller goals to make tasks more manageable and prioritise them in order of importance.
  • Create a revision timetable/study plan – this will help students manage their time effectively, increasing their chances of achieving their goals. It will also help them break down key geography concepts into smaller and manageable chunks, as it is a large subject. They should focus on a different topic daily and schedule regular breaks to remain focused and motivated. The BBC has a free revision plan template here.
  • Use time management tools – help students to manage their time effectively, stay organised and meet deadlines. Some examples of tools include:
  • Planners.
  • Calendars.
  • To-do-lists.
  • Apps, e.g. study planners and time trackers.
  • The Pomodoro Technique.
  • Action Priority Matrices.
  • Task breakdown.
  • Find a suitable revision style – students must choose the correct study materials that meet their needs and use various techniques, such as notes, flashcards, mind maps, interactive quizzes, etc. They should adapt their revision to their learning styles and goals to maintain motivation and focus while revising and preparing for exams.
  • Practice using past papers – students should do many past papers, as the questions differ from year to year, but some may come up again but worded differently. They can do the papers under mock exam conditions and use the marking schemes to check their answers. They could also use examiners’ reports, which provide feedback on the performance of previous exams and question walk-throughs. Past papers, exam specifications, marking schemes and examiners’ reports on exam board websites, e.g. Edexcel International GCSE Geography.
  • Get to grips with maps and case studies – it goes without saying that students will need to find their way around paper and online maps to succeed in their exams. Students should familiarise themselves with various maps detailed in the exam specification. They will also need to learn and understand many case studies on geographical issues and phenomena.
  • Use technology – students can use various online resources to help them revise and reinforce their learning. They could try interactive games, quizzes, YouTube videos, online flashcards and apps.
  • Join a study group – there are in-person and online study and revision groups where students can meet others to discuss IGCSE geography and get support. One example is The Student Room. Students can join a one-to-one study group and work with another student or a large study group with many young people. They can also form their own if they cannot find a suitable one to join and use apps, such as WhatsApp or social media groups.
  • Consider tutoring – tutors supplement education, help students succeed academically and provide additional support where needed. There are many types of tutors, such as academic subject, test prep, homework help, special education, etc. The method of tuition delivery can also vary, e.g. one-to-one, group, in-person, online or at a learning centre.
  • Maintain healthy habits – students should eat a healthy and balanced diet, stay well hydrated, get plenty of sleep and exercise, and have regular breaks and leisure time to stay motivated and engaged.

Here are some resources to help with exam preparation (these are not endorsed but just suggestions):

  • Textbooks – awarding and examination bodies produce revision guides and exam practice books. There are also guides from educational publishers and textbook publishing companies. Textbooks range in price. If there have been no changes to the syllabus, it may be worth checking charity shops or eBay for second-hand copies.
  • Online platforms – many websites offer free revision resources and materials, but students will usually need to register. Some examples include (note: some are for GCSE, but the information can still be useful):
  • Revision World – provides free revision resources for a range of subjects.
  • Get Revising – has study plans, practice papers, flashcards, mindmaps, quizzes, etc.
  • Seneca – is a homework and revision platform with interactive flashcards and mini-tutorials based on exam board specifications.
  • StudyWise – has revision notes, quizzes, worksheets and videos.
  • Revisely – has notes, questions by topic, past papers, videos and an AI flashcard generator.
  • Study Rocket – has a website and an app with notes, videos, quizzes and a revision timetable.
  • Save My Exams – has IGCSE Geography past papers & questions by topic.
  • Geography Revision – has IGCSE Geography revision notes and study resources.
  • BBC Bitesize – GCSE Geography – has information, videos and quizzes.
  • Internet Geography – has interactive revision, quizzes and case studies.
  • Time for Geography – a video platform covering numerous geography topics.
  • BBC Bitesize – Geography exam techniques – has information on understanding exam questions.
  • Exam board websites – students can find past papers, exam specifications, marking schemes and examiner’s reports on exam board websites, such as Cambridge International, Edexcel and OxfordAQA.
  • Educational apps – students can download apps on their SmartPhones to help them revise. It is important to note that some apps may be Android or iPhone and have in-app purchases. Some examples of apps include:
  • AnkiDroid – making flashcards.
  • Evernote – for taking and organising notes.
  • Exam Countdown Lite – sets deadlines and tells students how many days they have to go until their exams.
  • Forest – to help stay focused and avoid distractions.
  • iMindMap – for mind mapping.
  • Some textbook publishers may also have apps to access after purchasing a textbook.
Exploring Our Planet: Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography


Geography is an essential subject to study, as it helps us to understand the world around us and is embedded in our daily lives. When we plan a holiday, check the weather forecast and travel to different places, we use geography concepts. It also lays a foundation for further study and future careers, as it is a large subject with many areas in which to specialise.

IGCSE Geography is a fantastic subject to undertake, as it helps students to understand the physical and human world and develop vital skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, research and data analysis. Some of these skills are transferable, which they can use in other careers and life.

The IGCSE geography curriculum helps students appreciate the diverseness and interconnectedness of the world, how they fit into it and their role in their communities, societies and globally. We are custodians of this planet and have a moral obligation to protect it for future generations and other species. Understanding how geography relates to real-world situations and issues provides an awareness of our role in protecting it from current and future threats and how to be better citizens.

Students should thoroughly prepare for their IGCSE Geography examinations and start as early as possible. They should focus on case studies, fieldwork techniques, effective research, and critical analysis and evaluation of data and information. Looking through the exam board specifications and their past papers, marking schemes, and examiner’s reports will increase students’ chances of getting the best possible grade in their IGCSE Geography exams.

Exploring Our Planet: Key Concepts from IGCSE Geography
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