Geography Essay Question

Graphic Organizer to Write Essays
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Step 1: Weight of essay questions on Paper 1, 2 and 3

Essays or essay-like extended-responses are usually indicated by a command term such as "discuss", "to what extent", "analyze", "evaluate", "justify", "compare and contrast". Essays or essay-like "extended responses" are expected on the following components:
  • Paper 1: section B requires an essay-like "extended response" which accounts for 15 marks out of 60. Use approximately 20-25 minutes on section B, and include annotated maps/diagrams where appropriate.
  • Paper 2: each one of the Document-Based Questionnaire (DBQ) on Paper 2 accounts for 20 marks. The last question on each DBQ is always longer and requires an essay-like "extended-response" which accounts for half the marks. Use approximately 20 minutes for each essay-like question and include annotated maps/diagrams where appropriate.
  • Paper 3 (HL only): you have one hour to answer a 2-part essay question. Use approximately 25 minutes for part A (=10 marks) and 35 minutes for part B (=15 marks), and include annotated maps/diagrams where appropriate for both part A and part B.
Essays therefore represent a significant portion of the external assessment:
  • SL: essays = 41% of the written exam (15 marks for p1 + 2x10 marks for p2)
  • HL: essays = 54% of the written exam (15 marks for p1 + 3x10 marks for p2 + 25 marks for p3)

Step 2: Expectations for top marks

According to the IB markbands, essays or extended-responses MUST display the following six elements to achieve the top marks:
  1. Well-developed answer to all or most aspects of the question (see step 3-4 below)
  2. Detailed references to a variety of specific case-studies and named examples to support the answer
  3. Appropriate and frequent use of the terminology (e.g. "carrying capacity", "time-space convergence", "distance-decay principle")
  4. Clear and well-articulated structure (see step 6 below)
  5. Well-balanced attempt at evaluation or synthesis (e.g. pros and cons, limitations, exceptions)
  6. Clear and relevant annotated maps and diagrams as often as is appropriate (see step 7)

Step 3: Understanding the keywords in the essay question

Step 6: Common essay structures in Geography

You essay must follow the structure found on the left. You can also download and use the graphic organizer found at the top of this page to help guide you in this process.

It is CRITICAL to skip lines to clearly indicate to the reader that you have an organized structure and that you are separating each part of your argument:
  • After the introduction: skip 3-4 lines
  • Between each topic: skip 1 full line
  • Before the conclusion: skip 3-4 lines
You can usually adapt one of the following structures to most essay questions. The best plan -and also the most elaborate- is often the "typological plan" since it leads to a spatial differentiation and is usually supplemented by a map which illustrates the 3rd section of the essay (geography is all about maps!). It is also a good idea to change scales (local/regional/global) and use as many diverse and specific examples as possible.


Step 7: Annotated Maps & Diagrams

Students are expected to include well‑drawn, large, relevant maps, sketches, and diagrams as often as applicable (metric scales only for maps).
  • Click here to see the list of command terms
  • Referring to: using, mentioning explicitely
  • Outcome: consequence, result
  • Benefits/costs: positive/negative outcomes
  • Pressures/conflicts: undesirable competition
  • Challenges: difficulties which may be overcome
  • Social: relates to human welfare (e.g. housing, health)
  • Cultural: relates to languages, customs, religions, moral codes
  • Political: relates to government actions
  • Demographic: relates to populations (e.g. fertility)
  • Environmental: relates to the physical environment
  • Issues: important and controversial results
  • Trend: change over time (usually on a graph)
  • Pattern: distribution in space (ie: can be mapped)
  • Process: actions or changes which occur between two parts/stages
  • Relationship: two-way interactions
  • Global scale: the entire world
  • Regional scale: large regions (e.g. Europe, Asia Pacific)
  • National scale: within one country
  • Local scale: immediate district or state

Note: "DESCRIBE" (=what?) is different from "EXPLAIN" (=why or how?)

Step 4: Interpreting the essay title

Look carefully at the essay title and carry out the following:
  1. Underline the key words in the title
  2. Use the L.I.S.T. checklist below to ensure that you give the essay title its broadest interpretation:
  • L – LOCATION (spatial context): poor/rich countries; rural/urban areas;
  • tropical/temperate; land/air/sea; marine/terrestrial/atmospheric
  • I – ISSUES (factors): positive/negative, advantages/disadvantages, costs/benefits,
  • human/physical, environmental, social, cultural, demographic, political,
  • economic, geographic
  • S – SCALE: global, regional, international, national, sub-national, local
  • T – TIME: long-term/medium-term/short-term; past/present/future; contemporary/recent/current
(note that some of the items in the L.I.S.T. may not be relevant to the essay)

Step 5: Brief introduction (3-5 lines)

A good introduction must be brief and include the following 3 elements:
  1. Define the key words of the title (e.g. "globalization", "information technology", "megacity")
  2. Formulate the question: use or rephrase the essay title, suggest possible sub-questions which may be relevant to the essay
  3. Announce the structure/plan that will be used to answer the question: however do NOT "conclude" by giving away your key arguments in the introduction. Rather, indicate the path you'll follow (e.g. "we will first examine this aspect, then evaluate this this aspect, and finally look into this aspect")
Skip 3-4 lines after the introduction so that there is no doubt for the reader that you are know beginning the body of the essay.
Assessment Plan
  1. Thesis (pros)
  2. Antithesis (cons)
  3. Synthesis (conclusion)
Thematic Plan
  1. Aspect / Theme #1
  2. Aspect / Theme #2
  3. Aspect / Theme #3
Comparative Plan
  1. Similarities
  2. Differences
  3. Correlation / Interaction
Analytical Plan
  1. Causes
  2. Consequences / Impact
  3. Limits
Typological Plan
  1. Description
  2. Factors of change
  3. Spatial typology (different types of regions, with a map if possible)
Annotated maps and diagrams are expected for any essay-like or extended response and in the Fieldwork (wherever appropriate):
  • Paper 1 - Section B
  • Paper 2 - Last question of each of the exercises
  • Paper 3 - Part A and part B
  • Fieldwork - Section 3 (analysis and treatment of data)
Annnotated maps and diagramsMUST feature the following elements:
  • Title
  • Key
  • Annotations explaining, elaborating or emphasizing particular features
  • Scale and orientation (for maps, particularly in the Fieldwork)
  • Clarity + legibility

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