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23rd June 2000 at 01:00
ADVANCED GEOGRAPHY. By Garrett Nagle. Oxford University Press pound;22.50

GEOGRAPHY SUCCESS AT A LEVEL. By Kris Spencer. Oxford University Press pound;9

Somewhat surprisingly, the main recent rival for Advanced Geography is another book by the same author, who, with Paul Guinness wrote Hodder's Advanced Geography, (reviewed in TES Friday magazine March 31, 2000). But the two books are quite different. Visually, this OUP volume is more attractive, more colourfully illustrated, though maps and diagrams again considerably outnumber pictures. Though somewhat shorter than the Hodder text, Advanced Geography has a more complex structure, with 21 modules instead of 14.

This text is also punctuated by colour-coded sections labelled Skills, Surgeries (explaining theories and concepts), Seminars (focusing on key issues) and Case Studies. These sections, which vary from four pages to less than half a page, account for about 30 per cent of the text.

A more elaborate, sub-divided programme could have reduced cohesion, but this is largely avoided by a strategy of "family grouping". Thus, for Skills 6 (Coping with a Data-Response Question), the data to be analysed relates to the Dorset coastline. Seminar 6 deals with rival hypotheses about the origins of Lulworth Cove, and Case Study 6 examines deposition and erosion along the coast at Chesil and Chiswell. Skills 20, How to Plan an Investigation, returns to Lulworth, and Case Study 20 looks at "managing" the same small area (presumably to include coping with an invasion of well-briefed sixth-formers). As in the Hodder ook, there is a healthy emphasis on theory, not for its own sake, but to introduce students to rival explanations, whether of the formation of tors or of counter-urbanisation.

The four-fold categorisation does not prove totally workable. Some Seminars, for instance on Himalayan deforestation, do present rival arguments, but others, such as Plate Tectonics and Regional Policy, turn out to be straight chronological accounts. Some Surgeries - mapping succession on a dune, or rural settlement patterns - could have been labelled Skills. Questions, including AS examples, are provided, but kept firmly in their place. A glossary would have been helpful, as so much A-level geography involves the acquisition of new terminology, towards a hundred unfamiliar items in the fluvial chapter alone.

Real case studies are rather less substantial than in the Hodder text, and half of them are UK locations. The book is more expensive, more immediately attractive to students, but may demand more navigational skills from its readers.

Users of Garrett Nagle's book, with its emphasis on skills, would probably not need to invest in Geography Success at A Level, whose hectic pages could well demonstrate how to secure an A-level pass without having to be interested in geography.

This handbook is exclusively concerned with the mechanics of exam-passing, and could be of use to those returning to academic study after an interval, or to less experienced teachers, whose students, I hope, would also have access to a modern mainstream text such as the one under review.


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