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DSST Introduction to Geology Study Guide

Updated: Feb 14

DSST Introduction to Geology Exam Outline

Are you feeling the pressure with your DSST Introduction to Geology Exam looming just weeks away?

You're not alone.

Studying smart is essential, and this study guide is your perfect starting point.

Our comprehensive lessons are designed to save you time, providing all the essential information you need in one place.

Review our study guide for an outline of your final exam.


Table of Contents


1. Core Knowledge

Scientist collecting a soil sample.
Core Knowledge – 30%


Minerals are inorganic, naturally occurring substances with definite chemical compositions and crystal structures.

For example, quartz and feldspar are common minerals in Earth's crust.



Rocks are composed of one or more minerals. Examples include granite, composed of quartz, feldspar, and mica, and limestone, primarily made up of calcite.


Types of Rocks

There are three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.


Igneous Rocks

  • Intrusive Igneous Rocks: Form when magma cools and crystallizes below the Earth's surface. Examples include granite and diorite.

  • Extrusive Igneous Rocks: Form when magma cools and crystallizes above the Earth's surface. Examples include basalt and pumice.


Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks are formed from eroded fragments of other rocks deposited in layers.

The three main types are clastic (e.g., sandstone), chemical (e.g., limestone), and organic (e.g., coal).


Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks are formed when existing rocks are changed by heat, pressure, or other agents.

The two main types are foliated (e.g., slate) and non-foliated (e.g., marble).


Rock Cycle

The rock cycle describes how rocks are created, destroyed, and reformed.

It illustrates how rocks change from one type to another over time.


Plate Tectonics

Plate tectonics is the scientific study of the movement and behavior of Earth's lithospheric plates.

These plates are large segments of the Earth's crust that move over the semi-fluid asthenosphere.

Earthquakes occur when plates collide or grind against each other, releasing energy as seismic waves.

These seismic waves can cause the ground to shake and damage structures and landscapes.


DSST Introduction to Geology Trivia Question # 119


2. Surface Processes

Volcano about to erupt.
Surface Processes – 30%

Weathering and Soil

Weathering is the breakdown of rocks into smaller pieces through physical, chemical, or biological processes.

For example, freeze-thaw cycles can cause rocks to crack and break apart.

Soil is a complex mixture of minerals, organic matter, water, and air that supports plant growth.

It forms as rocks weather and organic material decomposes.


Mass Wasting

Mass wasting is the downhill movement of rock and soil under the influence of gravity.

Examples include landslides, mudflows, and avalanches triggered by heavy rainfall or earthquakes.


Streams and Floods

Streams are bodies of flowing water confined within a channel.

Floods occur when water overflows its banks and inundates surrounding areas, often causing damage to property and infrastructure.


Groundwater and Karst

Groundwater is water that saturates the soil or rock beneath the surface.

Karst landscapes are formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone, creating features such as sinkholes and caves.


Glaciers and Glaciation

Glaciers are large masses of ice that move slowly over land surfaces.

Glaciation refers to the processes of erosion and deposition associated with glaciers, shaping the landscape over thousands of years.


Oceanic and Coastal Systems

The ocean covers most of the Earth's surface and regulates climate.

Coastal systems are dynamic environments where land meets the sea, characterized by diverse ecosystems and geological features.


Deserts and Wind

Deserts are arid regions with little precipitation, often characterized by dunes and rock formations.

Wind moves air across the Earth's surface, shaping desert landscapes through erosion and deposition.


Hydrologic Cycle

The hydrologic cycle describes the continuous movement of water between the atmosphere, land, and oceans, driven by evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.

It plays a crucial role in shaping Earth's surface and sustaining life.


DSST Introduction to Geology Trivia Question # 145


3. Tectonic Earth Processes

Volcano fire sprouting.
Tectonic Earth Processes – 30%

Geologic Time

Geologic time is the scale used by geologists to measure Earth's history.

It is divided into different units, including eons, eras, periods, and epochs.

  • Relative Time: Orders events based on their sequence. For example, if a layer of rock is found above another layer, the upper layer is considered younger.

  • Absolute Time: Measures time with a specific calendar or clock. Radiometric dating methods, such as carbon dating, determine the absolute age of rocks and fossils.

  • Field Relations: Describes relationships between rocks and features in an area. This includes the study of rock layers, or strata, and the principles of stratigraphy used to interpret Earth's history.


Structural Geology

Structural geology studies the shape and orientation of rocks and how they deform under pressure.

  • Folding: Rocks bend or deform due to compressional forces. For example, the Appalachian Mountains were formed by folding.

  • Faulting: Rocks breaking along fractures, called faults, due to tectonic forces. Earthquakes often occur along faults.

  • Mountain Building: The process of mountain formation, often associated with tectonic plate collisions and the uplift of rock layers.


Volcanoes and Volcanic Hazards

Volcanoes are openings in Earth's surface through which magma, ash, and gases erupt.

  • Volcanic Hazards: Dangers posed by volcanic activity, including lava flows, ash clouds, pyroclastic flows, and volcanic gases.



Geophysics studies Earth's physical properties and processes using physics principles.

  • Earthquakes and Seismology: The study of sudden Earth surface movements and the seismic waves they generate. Seismometers are used to detect and measure earthquakes.

  • Interior of the Earth: Divided into layers, including the crust, mantle, and core, each with different physical and chemical properties.

  • Gravity and Isostasy: The force attracting objects to Earth's center and the balance between the weight of Earth's crust and the buoyancy of the mantle. This concept helps explain the elevation of mountain ranges and the depression of ocean basins.


4. Applications

Volcano about to erupt in final moments.
Applications – 10%

Mineral and Energy Resources

Minerals are naturally occurring substances with various uses, while energy resources are materials used for energy production.

For example, coal and oil are energy resources, while iron and copper are used in various industries.


Environmental Geology

Environmental geology studies how geological processes impact the environment.

For instance, it examines how soil erosion and landslides can affect ecosystems and human communities.


Climate Change

Climate change refers to significant, lasting changes in average weather conditions.

For example, rising global temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns are indicators of climate change.


DSST Introduction to Geology Trivia Question # 193


5. Conclusion: DSST Introduction to Geology

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6. Student Resources


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