Tag Archive for: Geography Exam Technique

Acronyms in geography to improve writing

Acronyms are a great way of supporting students when writing like a geographer. They provide a simple framework for students to follow when answering different types of geographical questions. If embedded throughout key stage 3 and 4 they are powerful tools for learners to draw on in the tension-thick exam hall.

Having reached out to Twitter for acronym suggestions, we’ve pulled together a range of strategies that may be useful to you and your students. Many thanks to everyone who contributed!

We do not recommend teaching students all of the techniques below. It is more useful to cherry-pick a small number to try. Also, while acronyms provide support and structure to students there is a risk that answers can become too formulaic. Students need to be taught how to use these acronyms effectively – knowing when and how to confidently apply or deviate from them.

If we’ve missed out a useful acronym please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. If you have any resources you’re prepared to share based on these strategies please send a copy to [email protected].

Acronyms for thinking synoptically

STEEP – Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental & Political (includes Historical)
Why use it?
A useful way of encouraging students to make connections.

The image below, provided by @geojosie, provides a structure for using STEEP.

STEEP - encouraging learners to think synoptically

STEEP – encouraging learners to think synoptically

Acronyms for answering geographical questions

SEE – State, explain, example
Why use it?
Provides a simple structure when answering questions. Students will give an answer (state), explain it and back it up with an example.

PEE – Point, explain, example
Why use it?
Provides a simple structure when answering questions. Students will give a point, explain it and back it up with an example.

The video below, by Kit Rackley of GeogRamblings, explains the technique in a geographical context.

PEEEL – Point, explain example, evaluation and link
Why use it?
Further development on the PEE acronym.

PEDaL – Point, evidence/explain, develop, link
Why use it?
Useful for explaining answers and making links back to the question.

PETAL – Point, evidence, this means that, as a result, link.
Why use it?
A development of PEDaL that provides further structure to explanations and considers impacts.

PELE – Point, explain, link, evidence
Why use it?
Legendary footballer!

SHEEP 🐑 Social, historical, economic, environmental, political
Why use it?
Supports development of answers, particularly for high tariff questions.

Acronyms for geographical distribution/patterns/locations

CLOCCK – Continent, latitude/longitude, ocean/sea, country, compass, kilometre
Why use it?
A technique for describing geographical locations on a map.

GSE Generally, specifically and exception
Why use it? 
Useful for distribution/location questions

Acronyms for graphs/data

TEA – Trend, example, anomaly
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs.

TREE – Trend, rate of change, examples/evidence, exceptions
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs, this structure ensures students cover all possibilities when analysing data.

TEAL – Trend, example, anomaly, links
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs.

PALMS – Pattern, anomaly, least, most, stats
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs and maps.

PADL – Patterns, anomalies, data, links to topic(s).
Why use it?
Ideal for resource-based questions.

PDA – Patterns, data, anomalies
Why use it?
Ideal for ensuring students include data in descriptions.

FART – Figures, anomalies, rate and trend.
Why use it?
The students will remember it! Useful to remind them of rates and trends in data.

GEE it’s a graph! Generally, examples include, exceptions include…
Why use it?
Particularly useful for sentence starters.

TRASH – Trend, range, anomalies, smallest, highest
Why use it?
A comprehensive range of areas to cover when investigating data.

Acronyms for factors affecting climate

WORLD – Wind direction, ocean currents, relief, latitude, distance from the sea
Why use it?
Simple structure for explaining factors that affect climate.

Acronyms for exam technique – reading the question

GAMES – Geography (what knowledge will I apply?), ask (what is the question asking me to do with that knowledge?), marks (how many is it worth and how will I get top marks?), extra (do I need to use resources, maps, graphs etc.)
Why use it?
A great way to encourage students to consider what the question is asking them to do.

BUG – BOX the command word, UNDERLINE the key term/topic, GLANCE back at the question regularly.
Why use it?
Sometimes students can be guilty of regurgitating their geographical knowledge in an exam without actually answering the question. BUG the question is a great technique for students to deconstruct exam questions and increase their chances of picking up marks by writing an answer appropriate to the question.

Acronyms for decision making

MADASS – My choice, advantages, disadvantages, alternatives (compare to), sustainability, sum up.
Why use it?
A great way to encourage students to consider balance when completing decision-making activities.

If you are an Internet Geography Plus subscriber you have free access to the new resources we’re developing to support students in the use of acronyms to improve their answers to geographical questions. Click the image below to access. Get a low-cost subscription here.

PETAL Geography

Scaffolding to tackle alien questions

Having recently read Mark Esner’s post on the TES on Scaffolding: are you using it properly? it reminded me about a scaffolding strategy I’ve used in the past to tack alien ‘questions’.

You’ve crafted and delivered a fantastic set of lessons where students have soaked up knowledge and developed their understanding around a particular topic only to crash and burn when faced with an extended exam question.

Sound familiar?

Then you’ve experienced the scourge of the classroom – the alien question. Alien questions are usually greeted with blank expressions, quickly followed by the looks of pure panic. Despite having developed incredible subject knowledge, applying this to an exam question that students don’t understand is a near impossibility.

Having experienced the curse of the alien question in the classroom, I quickly realised students need to dissect exam questions to apply their skills, knowledge and understanding. This led to the development of a resource that provides students with scaffolding in completing alien questions. Enter DISSECT to Alien Questions. DISSECT is a simple acronym to help students remember how to attempt an alien question:

  1. Decipher the question
  2. Identify facts
  3. Sensible Structure
  4. Examples
  5. Command words
  6. The conclusion
DISSECT the exam question

DISSECT the exam question template

The modelling starts with working out what the exam question is asking. This is followed by identifying examples, such as case studies, that will be included in the answer. Next, the key facts that will be included in the response are recorded. A simple structure is then be planned. Finally, a brief plan for a clear and concise conclusion is recorded. Of course, the model is flexible in terms of the order taken to prepare an answer. For example, planning the conclusion may come before planning the structure.

Below is an example of scaffolding for an alien question that has been live modelled with students.

Example DISSECT the exam question

Example DISSECT the exam question

Eventually, the scaffolding needs to be removed in order for students to be able to tackle alien questions independently. After all, they can’t take the framework into the exam with them. So, how might this be achieved? Below are a series of steps that could be taken to help achieve this:

  1. The teacher models the thinking process they would go through in completing the alien exam question using the template;
  2. Repeat this several times with different exam questions;
  3. Students work in small groups using the template to plan an answer to an alien question. They then rotate around the class looking at other group’s plans and add annotations;
  4. Students complete the template in pairs, then share with other couples to get feedback;
  5. Students use the model independently;

This would occur over an extended period as students will need several experiences using this approach until it is embedded.

Download the template and example below:

DISSECT template

DISSECT earthquake example

If you model any examples using this technique please send a copy over to share via [email protected]

Anthony Bennett



Exam Question Modelling – AO1 and AO2

Exam Question Modelling – AO1, AO3 and AO4