The Diploma Programme geography course integrates both physical and human geography, and ensures that students acquire elements of both scientific and socio-economic methodologies. 

Geography takes advantage of its position to examine relevant concepts and ideas from a wide variety of disciplines. This helps students develop an appreciation of, and a respect for, alternative approaches, viewpoints and ideas.

The geography course embodies global and international awareness in several distinct ways. It examines key global issues, such as poverty, sustainability and climate change. It considers examples and detailed case studies at a variety of scales, from local to regional, national and international.

The aims of the geography syllabus at SL and HL are to enable students to:

  • develop an understanding of the interrelationships between people, places, spaces and the environment
  • develop a concern for human welfare and the quality of the environment, and an understanding of the need for planning and sustainable management
  • appreciate the relevance of geography in analysing contemporary issues and challenges, and develop a global perspective of diversity and change.

Throughout the course, there is considerable flexibility in the choice of examples and case studies to ensure that Diploma Programme geography is a highly appropriate way to meet the needs of all students, regardless of their precise geographical location.

Distinction between SL and HL

Students at standard level (SL) and higher level (HL) in geography are presented with a syllabus that has a common core and optional themes. HL students also study the higher level extension. The syllabus requires the development of certain skills, attributes and knowledge.

Although the skills and activity of studying geography are common to both SL and HL students, the HL student is required to acquire a further body of knowledge, to demonstrate critical evaluation, and to synthesize the concepts in the higher level extension.

Paper 1 - Core Theme - Patterns and Change [HL and SL Students]

The core theme provides an overview of the geographic foundation for the key global issues of our times. The purpose is to provide a broad factual and conceptual introduction to each topic and to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular those concerning poverty reduction, gender equality, improvements in health and education and environmental sustainability. The progress made towards meeting these goals is also evaluated.

There are four compulsory topics in this core theme:

1. Population in Transition
2. Disparities in Wealth and Development
3. Patterns in Environmental Quality and Sustainability
4. Patterns in Resource Consumption

Paper 2 - Optional Themes

HL students study three options. SL students study two options
The options are:

A. Freshwater - Issues and Conflicts
B. Oceans and their Coastal Margins
C. Extreme Environments
D. Hazards and Disasters - Risk Assessment and Response
E. Leisure, Sport and Tourism
F. The Geography of Food and Health
G. Urban Environment

Paper 3 - HL Extension - Global Interactions

There are seven compulsory topics in the HL extension:

1. Measuring Global Interactions
2. Changing Space - The Shrinking World
3. Economic Interactions and Flows
4. Environmental Change
5. Sociocultural Exchanges
6. Political Outcomes
7. Global Interactions at the Local Level

Internal Assessment

The fieldwork study involves 20 hours of teaching time for both HL and SL students. The study area chosen can be from the core theme, the optional themes, or the global interactions at the local level topic of the HL extension. It is possible to combine two or more topics or themes. 

The fieldwork must be on a local scale and involve the collection of primary information. The chosen topic may be physical or human, or may integrate the two approaches. The internal assessment is completed as one 2500 word report.

Learn more about geography in a DP workshop for teachers

Geography and prior learning

The geography course requires no specific prior learning. No particular background in terms of specific subjects studied for national or international qualifications is expected or required.