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What Influences Students to Choose Geography at A level?. Jane Ferretti University of Sheffield. Most students felt that the main influences on their choice of A level subjects were: Their own GCSE results were good, They had liked the subject at GCSE It would be useful for a career.

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Most students felt that the main influences on their choice of A level subjects were:

  • Their own GCSE results were good,
  • They had liked the subject at GCSE
  • It would be useful for a career.
  • It was interesting.
  • Not important
  • Friends choosing the subject,
  • Advice from peers
  • Thought it would be challenging.

Your own GCSE result was good in the subject

Thought it would be useful for a career

Liked the subject at GCSE

Thought it was interesting

Liked the sound of the course

Good results record for the subject

Needed the subject for career choice

Teachers’ advice

Thought it was easy

Expected to get good teachers

The type of assessment including course work

Parents’ advice

Thought it was challenging

Advice from peers (friends, family or others)

Friends doing the subject








Girls' score

Boys' score

The girls identified
  • Their own GCSE results.
  • It would be useful for a career.
  • They had liked the subject at GCSE

The boys identified

  • It was interesting.
  • It would be useful for a career.
  • Their own GCSE results.
  • GCSE results
  • Teachers’ advice
  • Coursework
gcse results
GCSE results.
  • Jodie: I thought twice about doing geography. I was predicted an A* and I came out with a B so I thought may be I am not that good. But I carried on regardless because I thought probably I could do alright.
James: It was almost entirely because I got a B in Art and an A* in Geography.

I was leaning towards geography anyway because I had enjoyed it at GCSE


Teachers’ advice

Responses relating to influence of teachers.

Alex: My geography teacher thought I would be good at A level because he thought I was good at GCSE. I asked him if he thought I would be alright and he said “Yes”.

Jodie: My geography teacher said ‘Well you are quite good at geography why don’t you take it next year because I think you will be good at it?’

JF: Did you pay attention to that.

Jodie: Yes I did.

Jessica: My geography and history teachers were very enthusiastic for me to carry on the subjects at A level. They thought I could do really well. And so that influenced my choice, but if I had not liked the subject I would not have taken it, but to hear that they thought I could do well helped me confirm my decision.
JF: Did your teachers advise you at all?

Yasmin: No they didn’t really. No they didn’t.

Teacher: I think it is not fair, it is their decision and I don’t want to bully them, (not that I would), I just feel it is undue pressure.
  • Teachers had strong views
  • Teachers thought coursework at GCSE and A Level put students off A Level geography.
  • Students did not have strong views.
  • Students accepted coursework as part of the assessment process.
Alex: “I looked but it did not influence my decision. No it wasn’t important”.
  • Anna: “I thought I had done coursework for GCSE and that was alright so I thought it would be OK”.
  • Teachers thought fieldwork was important, and that it encouraged students to take geography.
  • Students were less enthusiastic.
Ben: It (fieldwork) did not put me off. It encouraged me a bit. I looked forward to going out to learn about coastal processes and actually being there instead of learning in the classroom or off the board or booklets.
  • JF: But if it had come to deciding on that subject or not would it have made any difference?
  • Ben: No
Yasmin: The fieldwork almost put me off too because it was so early in the year and I didn’t know anybody that was doing geography. I enjoyed it in the end. And it was a new school as well and I didn’t know anybody so I was a bit worried about that.
summary of findings
Summary of findings:
  • Students take the decision about A Levels seriously.
  • GCSE results in isolation are not very significant. It seems more important that students have confidence in their own ability, believe they will do well at GCSE and are capable of success at A level.
For some students, teachers play an important role in boosting confidence and providing encouragement, especially where this occurs on a one to one level.
  • Many students said that few teachers spoke to them individually about subject choice.
  • Neither the amount of coursework, nor the prospect of fieldwork appears to have a significant influence on choosing geography.
so what can teachers do
So what can teachers do?
  • Give students confidence in their ability. Do this explicitly during the course, do not rely on GCSE results.
  • Take time to talk to students and encourage them on an individual basis.
Do not assume that coursework will put students off.
  • Do not assume that the prospect of field work will attract students to A Level.
Make lessons interesting….If students do not like geography at GCSE then the will not choose it at A Level.