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The Expert's Guide to the AP Human Geography Exam


AP Human Geography is an investigation of how the human species has populated the earth and developed different cultures, political systems, and means of production. This is a subject that can be a little hard to pin down because it represents an intersection of lots of different information.

How does the College Board test such a wide range of topics? Continue reading to gain a better understanding of the lay of the land (so to speak) on the AP Human Geography exam!


How Is the AP Human Geography Exam Structured?

The AP Human Geography test is two hours and 15 minutes long. It contains a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. The next AP Human Geography test will be held on Tuesday, May 4, 2023, at 8:00 AM. No points are deducted for wrong or blank answers on the exam.

Note that the exam was updated in 2020 to provide an increased emphasis on analyzing quantitative and qualitative data sources. For more information, go to the College Board website.

Here's a brief overview of the new AP Human Geography test format for 2020 and beyond:

Section % of Score Time # of Questions
1. Multiple Choice 50% 1 hr 60
2. Free Response 50% 1 hr 15 mins 3
TOTAL 100% 2 hrs 15 mins 63


First is the multiple-choice section, which consists of 60 questions and lasts one hour. (Prior to the 2020 changes, this section had 75 questions.) This section accounts for half your total AP exam score. You must answer 60 questions in an hour, which means you will get about one minute per question.

Every multiple-choice question has five answer choices (A-E), and there are two basic types:

  • Individual questions
  • Set-based questions (five to eight sets, each with two to three questions)

On this section, you'll be expected to do the following:

  • Consider maps and spatial data
  • Show a strong understanding of how the world looks from a spatial perspective
  • Interpret patterns and processes at different scales
  • Understand different regions
  • Characterize and analyze changing interactions among different places

The free-response section comes second and is a little longer at an hour and 15 minutes. Here, you'll get three questions, each worth 7 raw points. Altogether, this section accounts for half your total AP Human Geography test score. You'll have approximately 25 minutes per question.

Here's what you must do for each question, as described by the College Board:

  1. Describe, explain, apply geographic situation or scenario (no stimulus)

  2. Describe, explain, apply geographic data using data, image, or map (one quantitative or qualitative source)

  3. Describe, explain, apply geographic data using data, image, and/or map (two sources, qualitative and/or quantitative)




AP Human Geography Topics: What Does It Cover?

As a whole, the AP Human Geography course revolves around a thematic understanding of the human cultural landscape and patterns of global development. It deals with how human interactions and demographics are shaped by location and environment.

Specifically, AP Human Geography covers the following seven units, which you must link together conceptually on the exam. These units are connected to subtopics (or "Enduring Understandings") that you are expected to master by the time you take the test.

Before we go through these topics in detail, let's take a quick look at what percentage of the test (multiple-choice section only) each unit makes up:

Unit (Topic Area) % of Questions
Unit 1: Thinking Geographically 8-10%
Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes 12-17%
Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes 12-17%
Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes 12-17%
Unit 5: Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes 12-17%
Unit 6: Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes 12-17%
Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes 12-17%

Source: AP Human Geography Course and Exam Description


Unit 1: Thinking Geographically

  • Geographers use maps and data to depict relationships of time, space, and scale

  • Geographers analyze relationships among and between places to reveal important spatial patterns

  • Geographers analyze complex issues and relationships with a distinctively spatial perspective


Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes

  • Understanding where and how people live is essential to understanding global cultural, political, and economic patterns

  • Changes in population are due to mortality, fertility, and migration, which are influenced by the interplay of environmental, economic, cultural, and political factors

  • Changes in population have long- and short-term effects on a place's economy, culture, and politics


Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes

  • Cultural practices vary across geographical locations because of physical geography and available resources

  • The interaction of people contributes to the spread of cultural practices

  • Cultural ideas, practices, and innovations change or disappear over time


Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes

  • The political organization of space results from historical and current processes, events, and ideas

  • Political boundaries and divisions of governance, between states and within them, reflect balances of power that have been negotiated or imposed

  • Political, economic, cultural, or technological changes can challenge state sovereignty


Unit 5: Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes

  • Availability of resources and cultural practices influence agricultural practices and land-use patterns

  • Agriculture has changed over time because of cultural diffusion and advances in technology

  • Agricultural production and consumption patterns vary in different locations, presenting different environmental, social, economic, and cultural opportunities and challenges


Unit 6: Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes

  • The presence and growth of cities vary across geographical locations because of physical geography and resources

  • The attitudes and values of a population, as well as the balance of power within that population, are reflected in the built landscape

  • Urban areas face unique economic, political, cultural, and environmental challenges


Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes

  • Industrialization, past and present, has facilitated improvements in standards of living, but it has also contributed to geographically uneven development

  • Economic and social development happen at different times and rates in different places

  • Environmental problems stemming from industrialization may be remedied through sustainable development strategies



World Regions for AP Human Geography

Here are maps of world regions you'll be examining across all the topic areas in the course. These maps are important because you need to know exactly where different cultural, political, and demographic developments have occurred. Understanding the relative locations of different regions can help you grasp their places in the grand scheme of the human geographic landscape.

The first map is a broad survey of all the world regions, while the second has more specific labels:



AP Human Geography Exam: Sample Questions

In this section, we give you two examples of real AP Human Geography questions. For each, we go over how to find the correct answer and explain how points are awarded. Both questions below come from the 2020 AP Human Geography Course and Exam Description.


Multiple-Choice Question Example


To be able to answer this stand-alone AP Human Geography question, you'll need to know the definition of a "pull factor." In geography, a pull factor is any characteristic that attracts people to a particular place, organization, religion, etc. (Note that the opposite is a "push factor," which drives people away from something or somewhere.)

Therefore, just by reading this question, you should know right away that the answer you are looking for is a good thing—that is, something that might appeal to people migrating from a less developed country.

Choices A, B, C, and E are all negative characteristics that would likely drive people away from something. In other words, these are push factors, not pull factors.

The only clear pull factor is answer choice D, since universal health care would likely appeal to those coming from countries with less developed or less reliable health care systems.


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Free-Response Question Example



This sample AP Human Geography free-response question takes the form of question 3, meaning it comes with two stimuli (two visuals or pieces of data). Like all free-response questions, this one is worth a total of 7 points, one for each part of the question (A-G).

To get full credit for this free-response question, you would need to give the following answers, per the official scoring guidelines. Every question part (A-G) has multiple possible answers of which you are required to give just one in your response.


(A) Answer Options

  • Delhi is classified as a megacity because it has a total population greater than 10 million.
  • From 1991 to 2011, Delhi's total population grew to over 10 million.


(B) Answer Options

Many people move to Delhi from rural areas and smaller cities ...

  • in search of employment opportunities.
  • in the hopes of improving their income or quality of life.
  • to join family members or friends already living in Delhi.
  • to have better access to services, health care, or education.


(C) Answer Options

  • The city's center increases in the size, height, and/or number of large apartment buildings and condominiums that attract a growing population of middle-class workers in the country's capital.

  • Infilling occurs where open space presents an economic opportunity for landowners to build small multi-family housing units, placing more people into existing city blocks.

  • The government is increasing its provision of public housing in apartment blocks within the city, which provide larger buildings with multi-family housing units.


(D) Answer Options

  • A need for additional public transportation lines and/or added capacity on existing transit systems.

  • A need for improved sanitation, water supply, waste disposal, or wastewater treatment facilities.

  • A need for more housing, especially for lower-income residents.

  • A need for improved communication or electric utility infrastructure.

  • A need for additional public schools, colleges, universities, and/or libraries.


(E) Answer Options

Increased number of vehicles on the roadways results in visible air pollution, fog, smog, and/or airborne chemicals that lead to ...

  • health problems.
  • transportation accidents.
  • diverting potential economic investment in the city.


(F) Answer Options

  • India is a less developed country which has limited government funding to pay for pollution abatement programs (such as alternative fuels) or large investments in public transit.

  • India has a growing industrial sector which has limited environmental regulations such as controls on air pollution. Industrial air emissions contribute to the city's air pollution levels.

  • India has a large rural population and urban poor population who are dependent on burning wood for home heating and cooking. The smoke increases the city's air pollution levels.

  • During the dry season, farmers in northern India will burn the dead vegetation in their fields (following the harvest) to improve soil nutrients. The smoke can increase the city's air pollution levels.

  • As India's economy grows, more people can afford to own cars or buy trucks for their businesses. The additional vehicle increases the total amount of air pollution.


(G) Answer Options

  • Transportation-oriented development of new housing, industrial and retailing areas. Or, laws requiring new developments be constructed with bus lanes, train lines, and stations.

  • Vehicle restrictions, high-occupancy requirements, tolls, or congestion pricing to limit the number of vehicles on the roads.

  • Smart-growth policies, slow-growth, or zoning policies that restrict the amount of land that can be developed or create a development boundary or greenbelt around the city.

  • Alternative electrical energy and/or alternative fuel programs that are cleaner-burning or have zero emissions.

  • New Urbanism or mixed land-use developments where workers live, shop, and work within walkable distances.


body_refugeeswelcome.jpgHaven't these poor people been through enough?


How Is the AP Human Geography Exam Scored?

You'll get 1 point for each multiple-choice question you answer correctly on the Human Geography exam. There are no point deductions for incorrect answers, so be sure to fill in every bubble!

On the free-response questions, points are allotted for clearly and thoroughly answering each part of the question. Every free-response question is worth 7 points and has an equal bearing on your overall score.

The multiple-choice and free-response sections are each worth 50% of your score. Your free-response score is scaled in accordance with this and added to your multiple-choice score to arrive at a scaled AP score that is then converted to a final score on the 1-5 AP scale.

Below is the score distribution for students who took the 2022 AP Human Geography test:

AP Score % of Test Takers Earning Score (2022)
5 14.9%
4 18.7%
3 19.6%
2 15.0%
1 31.8%


As you can see from this chart, a whopping one-third of test takers got the lowest possible AP score on this test. What's more, 47% of students earned a 2 or lower, basically "failing" the exam. As a result, we can say that Human Geography is one of the hardest AP exams out there!


4 Essential Study Tips for the AP Human Geography Test

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you start preparing for the AP Human Geography test.


#1: Make Flashcards

Much of the AP Human Geography exam deals with key terms covered by the course. Free-response questions require you to have a strong understanding of specific geography terms and their implications in order to earn full credit.

The multiple-choice section also includes many questions that ask you to identify an example of a certain concept defined by a phrase unique to the field of human geography.

Because your score is dependent on your knowledge of this field-specific terminology, you'll benefit from making a set of flashcards of all the terms you've learned in your class. Go over these words until you feel confident that you understand all the definitions well enough to think of real-world examples.

You can even include a couple of examples on the back of each flashcard along with the definition!


#2: Know Geographic Models (and Practice Reading Them)

There are several geographic models that are important to understand if you hope to successfully interpret data in human geography. Make sure you're familiar with all of them and can read them easily. Sometimes, the test will present you with questions about identifying different types of models or ask you to comment on data sets.


#3: Take Official Practice Exams

There's no better form of practice than using official (or highly realistic unofficial) test questions, which is why you should take a practice Human Geography exam to start off your studying. This will not only allow you to predict your scores on the real test but will also help you make an informed decision about how much more you need to study in order to reach your goals.

You might find that you have trouble on certain types of questions that you didn't expect to be a problem. A careful analysis of your mistakes on practice tests will ensure that you only revisit content that has the potential to trip you up on the exam (rather than trying to reread your entire textbook).


#4: Review Regions (and Connect Them to Key Terms)

One problem that some students have on this exam is citing incorrect geographic regions in their responses. It's very important to know the names of the different regions of the world and the economic, political, and cultural climates that have evolved over time.

Be able to identify the various regions on the maps included in this article, and think about their individual statuses in connection with each of the main topics of the course.


body_pocketregions.jpgKeep a map of the world's regions in your metaphorical back pocket. Emphasis on metaphorical.


Conclusion: How to Ace the AP Human Geography Exam

The AP Human Geography exam is structured in a way similar to that of other AP tests. It's on the shorter side, coming in at just two hours and 15 minutes, but it has both multiple-choice and free-response sections, and its questions require a wide range of skills and content knowledge.

The seven major topic areas (i.e., units) you'll encounter on the test are as follows:

  • Thinking Geographically
  • Population and Migration Patterns and Processes
  • Cultural Patterns and Processes
  • Political Patterns and Processes
  • Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes
  • Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes
  • Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes

Here are some key study tips to remember for the AP Human Geography exam:

  • Make flashcards
  • Know the geographic models
  • Take practice exams
  • Review regions

Make sure that you block out enough study time before the exam to take practice tests, review all your mistakes, and revisit key concepts. Do all this, and you're sure to get an amazing Human Geography test score!


What's Next?

Should you include AP Human Geography in your schedule? What about other AP classes? Read this expert guide to find out which AP classes you should take in high school.

Everyone wants to get 5s on their AP tests, but how important is a perfect score in the long run? Learn more about what it means to earn a 5 on an AP exam and whether this is a smart goal for you.

If you're applying to super competitive colleges, you might plan on taking SAT Subject Tests. Check out this article for information on the differences between Subject Tests and AP tests.


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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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