Geography assessment over time

Geography assessment over time

February 2019


Cambridge Assessment’s 160th anniversary was last year. In the years that Cambridge Assessment has been in existence there has been a great deal of change, both in education and the way we live. In this Data Byte we look at how one subject, Geography, has been examined over this time.

Geography assessment over time

What does the chart show?

Geography question papers and syllabuses for every twentieth year between 1858 and 2018 were obtained from our archives. The timeline shows examples of questions from the exam each year.

We focused on school leaving exams in England, this means that the level of the exams increases through the timeline. This is in line with the rise in the school leaving age which occurred throughout the 20th century.

Why is the chart interesting?

The timeline gives a flavour of the exams and the syllabus each year, and shows how topics included in the syllabus mirror societal change. The first questions in the timeline reflect the importance of maritime trade at the time. Then, as knowledge and society develop, so does the syllabus and the content of the questions. There was a question on weather forecasting in 1978 and access to broadband last year, neither of which could be imagined in 1858.

Geography is a broad subject covering the study of the world around us and the relationships between people and their environments. It is divided into two main branches: physical geography and human geography. Physical geography is mainly concerned with the study of the physical characteristics of the earth, including the climate and water resources. Human geography is the study of how human activity affects, or is influenced by physical geography, and includes political and economic aspects. In 1858 the Geography syllabus was dominated by physical geography, however over the years the focus has shifted to human geography, and this was the focus of the syllabus in 2018.

The questions in the timeline also show the diversity of geographical skills examined, such as cartographic, graphical, numerical and statistical skills.

Further information

The examination materials shown in this Data Byte have been reproduced by kind permission of the Cambridge Assessment Group Archives.

A deeper analysis of the changes to several subjects was undertaken for our 150th Anniversary, and includes a study of Geography: Assessment Instruments over Time. Cambridge: Cambridge Assessment.

The book “Examining the World” provides a history of Cambridge Assessment and describes how school exams have changed over time. Examining the World: A History of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate is published by Cambridge University Press.