A Level Geology

 

What is it about at sixth form level?

What is the centre of the Earth made of? Why can’t we accurately predict volcanic eruptions and earthquakes? What will happen when the Earth’s natural resources run out? How can we tell what the climate was like millions of years ago? Geology is a relatively modern science but the discoveries of the previous century have transformed our knowledge of the Earth and its processes’ impact on humanity. Whereas only recently we could not have begun to answer the questions above, geologists are now working on them intensively.

The A Level course covers the fundamental principles of geoscience and is strongly based on the scientific principles on which the key theories are based. There is a strong focus on interpreting evidence and evaluating data. A large volume of content is covered in order that students become confident in explaining a range of topics, including the Earth’s structure, the major rock groups and the processes which form them, the exploitation of natural resources and fossils in the context of geological time and long-term climate change. This knowledge is vital in the modern world as the challenges facing us are becoming increasingly clear, and the demand for skilled scientists trained in multiple disciplines is equally rising.

Lower sixth

The AS level comprises three units. Unit 1 (Global Tectonics) introduces a range of geological theories of the nature and formation of the Earth’s structure. Earthquakes will be studied in the context of plate tectonics, and you will also look at meteorites and theories of the origin of the Solar System. In Unit 2 (Rocks – Processes and Products), each of the rock groups (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic) will be introduced and you will study the processes which form them in detail, including volcanism, deposition and solid- state recrystallisation. In Unit 3 (Practical Skills in Geology 1), you will carry out experimental and investigative activities and learn how to analyse and interpret the data.

Upper sixth

The A2 level also comprises three units. Unit 4 (Environmental Geology) applies the knowledge from Units 1 and 2 to natural resources: oil, gas, coal, metals and water. You will study engineering geology, which is relevant to tunnelling, dam-building and nuclear waste disposal, and consider the impact of mining on the environment. In Unit 5 (Evolution of Life, Earth and Climate), you will undertake a comprehensive study of the major fossil groups in order to understand the history of life on Earth. This will involve you looking at the evolution and morphology of certain fossil groups, the dating of rocks and the Earth’s climate over geological timescales. In Unit 6 (Practical Skills in Geology 2), you will undertake further laboratory work and visit Pembrokeshire. This is an excellent opportunity to apply the principles learned in the whole A Level to real geological situations in the field.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

Geology is often popular with students who enjoy science, and would like to continue studying it in the context of the Earth system in addition to, or rather than, specialising in one of the core sciences. An A level in Geology counts as a science A level and can form part of a strong application for subjects at university that demand one or more science subjects. The subject opens up a range of careers in areas such as engineering, oil, mining, geophysics and energy. It works equally well with Biology, Chemistry and Physics as science from all three areas are drawn on in Geology. It will develop your scientific and analytical skills in a way that takes you outside the laboratory and into the field. You will never think of the world beneath your feet in quite the same way again.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You will ideally have two B grades in science subjects at GCSE. You will have an interest in the physical environment and be interested by the idea of geological research. You should be aware that it is a science subject that spans physics, chemistry and biology. You will need to understand the basics of the scientific method and be able to handle simple equations, graphs and basic quantitative analysis.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

For the AS, Units 1 and 2 are assessed by written exams. The Unit 1 exam contains a series of short questions and a long answer question. It is worth 30% of the AS (15% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour. The Unit 2 exam contains a series of short answer questions and two long answer questions. It is worth 50% of the AS (25% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour 45 minutes. Unit 3 consists of both internally- assessed laboratory practicals and tasks which require evaluation of data and evidence. It is worth 20% of the AS (10% of the A2 level).

A2 level

For the A2, Units 4 and 5 are assessed by written exams. The Unit 4 exam contains a series of short questions and a long answer question. It is worth 30% of the A2 (15% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour. The Unit 5 exam contains a series of short answer questions and two long answer questions. It is worth 50% of the A2 (25% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour 45 minutes. Unit 6 consists of both internally- assessed laboratory practicals and tasks which require evaluation of data and evidence. It may also be possible to carry out an assessed fieldwork task. It is worth 20% of the A2 (10% of the A level).

Reading

OCR Geology
By D. Armstrong, M. Fry, F. Mugglestone, R. Richards
Published by Heinemann, ISBN 978-0435692117

Understanding Earth
By J. Grotzinger
Published by W. H. Freeman, ISBN 978-1429240031

Geological Science
By A. McLeish
Published by Nelson, ISBN 978-1464138744

Fossils at a Glance
By C. Milson, S. Rigby
Published by Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-1405193368

The Map That Changed The World
By S. Winchester
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140280395

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR H087, A2: OCR H487 (legacy)

Paul Turner
Head of Department