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

In the first year, you study four modules. In Module 1 (Development of Practical Skills in Geology), you will develop the fundamental skills needed to collect and analyse empirical data. In Module 2 (Foundations in Geology), you will learn about minerals, rocks, fossils and the geological timescale. In Module 3 (Global Tectonics) you will develop your understanding of the interior of the Earth: the tectonic environments in which rocks are formed and geological structures develop. In Module 4 (Interpreting the Past), you will study modern sediments and sedimentary rocks and how rocks are dated.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will study three more modules. In Module 5 (Petrology and Economic Geology) you will look at advanced sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic processes, hydrogeology, and the formation and extraction of metallic mineral resources. In Module 6 (Geohazards) you will investigate potential hazards from the natural world and the built environment and how they can be mitigated by geological expertise. In Module 7 (Basin Analysis), you will look at the study of sedimentary basins. There will be opportunities to study iconic fossil groups such as the Burgess Shale fauna and dinosaurs.

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

There is a single written paper that covers Modules 1-4. It has two sections. The first and shorter section contains multiple choice questions. The second and longer section contains short answer and extended response questions covering structured questions, problem solving, calculations and practical skills. The paper lasts 2 hours 30 minutes.

A level

There are three papers. Each paper assesses content from all seven modules and contains
a range of different question types: from short answer to extended response questions. Paper 1
(Fundamentals of Geology) lasts 2 hours 15 minutes and is worth 41% of the A level. Paper 2 (Scientific Literacy in Geology) lasts 2 hours 15 minutes and is worth 37% of the A level. Paper 3 (Practical skills in Geology) lasts 1 hours 30 minutes and is worth 22% of the A level. In addition, students must complete a minimum of four days of outdoor geological fieldwork in order to gain their practical endorsement.


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 H014, A level: OCR H414

Elizabeth Ryan
Head of Department


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University of Bristol (Law)

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University of Edinburgh (History and Politics)

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