Madras College

Geography - Higher

Why Study Geography

"Choosing Geography at school can also open the doors to a university degree, either specifically in Geography, or in combination with other subjects. Geography graduates have one of the highest rates of graduate employment due to their ability to research and synthesise data from a variety of sources, carry out practical fieldwork tasks, present balanced viewpoints, write reports, work effectively with new technologies and work independently, as well as collaborate in teams.

Studying Geography helps us to better understand the world's people, places and environments, and the interactions between them. As a result, the subject has a central role to play in promoting sustainable development and improving our stewardship of natural resources. Indeed, Geography is the only subject that offers holistic study of pressing environmental concerns, with its unique position as a bridge between the arts and the sciences.

Geography is a hugely relevant and dynamic subject that puts the headlines into context, including those about migration across the Mediterranean Sea and the impacts of earthquakes in Nepal. Furthermore, the majority of today's most pressing challenges are studied by geographers: climate change, energy resources, land use conflicts, globalisation of industry and trade, inequalities between rich and poor, and natural disasters."

Professor Iain Stewart RSGS President

Course Structure

There are four main areas of study:

  1. Physical Environments - Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Lithosphere and Biosphere.
  2. Human Environments - Population, Rural and Urban.
  3. Global Issues - Global Climate Change and Development and Health.
  4. Course Assignment - independent project work

The Final Exam

Course Content

Pupils study the following units:

Physical Environments

Atmosphere: Global heat budget. Redistribution of energy by atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Cause, characteristics and impact of the Intertropical Convergence Zone

Hydrosphere: Formation of erosional and depositional features in river landscapes: V shaped valley / waterfall / meander / oxbow-lake. Hydrological cycle within a drainage basin. Interpretation of hydrographs

Lithosphere: Formation of erosional and depositional features in glaciated landscapes: corrie / arête / pyramidal peak / U shaped valley / hanging valley / ribbon lake / drumlin esker / terminal moraine. Formation of erosional and depositional features in coastal landscapes: wave cut platform / headland and bay / cave / arch / stack / spit / bar / tombolo

Biosphere: properties and formation processes of podzol, brown earth and gley soils

Human Environments

Population: Methods and problems of data collection consequences of population structure. Causes and impacts of forced and voluntary migration

Rural: Impact and management of rural land degradation related to a rainforest or semi-arid area. Rural land use conflicts and their management related to either a glaciated or coastal landscape

Urban: The need for management of recent urban change (housing and transport) in a developed and in a developing world city management strategies employed. Impact of management strategies

Global Issues

Development and Health: Validity of development indicators. Differences in levels of development between developing countries. A water-related disease: causes, impact, management. Primary healthcare strategies

Global Climate Change: Physical and human causes. Local and global effects. Management strategies and their limitations


Geographical Skills

The following skills are assessed in contexts drawn from across the course.

Mapping skills:
- interpretation and analysis using maps, including Ordnance Survey maps, in association with photographs, field sketches, cross sections/transects.

Research skills including fieldwork skills:

- gathering

- processing

- interpreting

- evaluating

Using numerical and graphical information which may be presented in the following ways:

- statistical

- graphical

- tabular



Question paper 1: Physical and human environments - 100 marks

This question paper has 100 marks out of a total of 190 marks. This is scaled by SQA to represent 46% of the overall marks for the course assessment. Candidates are given 1 hour and 50 minutes for this paper.

This question paper has two sections:

Section 1: Physical environments, Section 2: Human environments

Each of these sections is worth 50 marks and consists of extended-response questions. Candidates answer all questions in each section.

Question paper 2: Global issues and geographical skills - 60 marks

This question paper has 60 marks out of a total of 190 marks. This is scaled by SQA to represent 27% of the overall marks for the course assessment. Candidates are given 1 hour and 10 minutes for this paper.

This question paper has two sections:

Section 1: Global issues is worth 40 marks and consists of extended-response questions.

Candidates choose two from the four questions. Each question is worth 20 marks.


Section 2: Application of geographical skills is worth 20 marks and consists of a mandatory extended-response question.

Candidates apply geographical skills acquired during the course. The skills assessed in the question include mapping skills and the use of numerical/graphical information.

Assignment - 30 marks

The assignment has 30 marks which represents 27% of the overall marks for the course assessment.

The assignment gives candidates an opportunity to demonstrate:

  • Identifying a geographical topic or issue
  • Carrying out research, which should include fieldwork where appropriate
  • Knowledge of the suitability of the methods and/or reliability of the sources used
  • Processing and using a range of information gathered
  • Drawing on detailed knowledge and understanding of the topic or issue
  • Analysing information from a range of sources
  • Reaching a conclusion supported by a range of evidence on a geographical topic or issue
  • Communicating information

Assignment conditions

The research stage is completed over a notional period of 8 hours. Candidates have 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete the production of evidence stage. This must be done in one sitting. The evidence must be completed in time to meet a submission date set by SQA.


Madras College has a proud history of conducting fieldwork and in the Geography Department we endeavour to continue this tradition. In the recent past pupils have conducted a river study of the River Eden, Fife, from the foothills of the Lomond Hills downstream to the lower course near Dairsie.

Resources for Pupils and Parents

Educational Texts and Resources available in school:

  • Campbell & Geddes, 2015, Geography Physical and Human Environments, Hodder Gibson
  • Campbell & Geddes, 2015, Geography Global Issues, Hodder Gibson
  • Williamson & Williamson, 2015, CfE Higher Geography Course Notes, Leckie and Leckie
  • The Geographical Magazine
  • The RSGS Magazine and Journal
  • Pupils are also directed to the SQA website and other online resources

Progression and Alternative Courses

  • Advanced Higher Geography course
  • Further study, employment and/or training
  • Suitable alternative option: Higher Environmental Science