Half the battle in reviewing for AP tests is knowing where to begin and how to structure your time. When it comes to the Human Geography class, how do you successfully switch from preparing for in-class tests to gearing up for the infamously difficult AP Human Geography exam?
In this complete AP Human Geography review, we give you a list of all the topics you'll see on test day, go through a step-by-step prep plan, and provide some helpful tips for acing this tricky exam.
What's the Format of the AP Human Geography Exam?
The AP Human Geography test is a shorter AP exam, at two hours and 15 minutes, and, like most AP tests, contains both a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. You'll get one hour to answer 60 multiple-choice questions and 75 minutes to answer three free-response questions, or FRQs. Each section accounts for 50% of your final score.
Here's an overview of what to expect on the AP Human Geography exam:
|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|
Note that the test has undergone some minor format changes for the 2019-20 testing year. Now, it has fewer multiple-choice questions (used to be 75) and consistent free-response questions, which will always be worth 7 raw points each.
On the multiple-choice section, try to work at a pace of about a minute per question. You'll earn 1 point for each question you answer correctly; no points are deducted for incorrect answers. Each question has five possible answer choices, labeled A-E.
Multiple-choice questions come as both individual questions and set-based questions. Overall, you will get five to eight sets, each with two to three questions with a qualitative or quantitative source.
As for the free-response section, you'll get about 25 minutes per question. You'll get no stimulus (i.e., a qualitative or quantitative source) for the first question, one source for the second question, and two sources for the third question.
AP Human Geography Topics: What's on the Exam?
There are seven main topics on the AP Human Geography exam. Every topic should show up in roughly the same number of questions, except for the first topic on the basics of what geography is, which will only make up 8-10% of questions.
This chart shows what percentage of the multiple-choice section the seven units take 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%|
Below, we list all the topics covered by the AP course and test, along with links to key terms and notes so that you can use this article as a resource for your AP Human Geography review.
The "Additional Notes" sections I've included are from CourseNotes, "Key Terms" are from Quizlet flashcards created by students for each unit of the AP course, and the "Important Things to Know" notes are PowerPoints in PDF form from an AP teacher.
Note that the units for the new 2020 Human Geography test are slightly different but still generally target the same overarching topics.
I recommend using a review book and/or your notes from class to supplement the info here.
Unit 1: Thinking Geographically
Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes
- Key Terms
- Important Things to Know — Topics 1 and 2
- Additional Notes
Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes
- Key Terms
- Additional Notes
Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes
- Key Terms
- Important Things to Know — Topics 3 and 4
- Additional Notes
Unit 5: Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes
- Key Terms
- Additional Notes
Unit 6: Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes
- Key Terms
- Additional Notes
Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes
- Key Terms
- Important Things to Know — Topics 5 and 6
- Additional Notes
Here's a comprehensive document (from an AP teacher's public site) that covers all the topics in AP Human Geography, so you can review everything in one place if you want.
There is also a bit of a science aspect to Human Geography, so you should know how to read the different types of models. I'll get more into this (with corresponding links) in the section on study tips at the end of this article.
Grids are a staple of urban planning, unless you live in Boston. I have no idea how anyone found their way around here before GPS. Then again, my sense of direction is so bad that I've resorted to cheating to escape from corn mazes more than once.
AP Human Geography Review: 4-Step Plan
Even if you know what's on the AP Human Geography exam, it's not always easy to come up with a good plan of attack. This section will walk you through a study process that will get you up to speed with everything the test might throw at you.
Here's the estimated time required for each of the steps in this process:
- Step 1: 2.5 hours
- Step 2: 1 hour
- Step 3: 2 hours
- Step 4: 2.5 hours
- Total Time: 8 hours
Step 1: Take and Score a Full Practice Test
Your first move in your AP Human Geography review should be to take a full-length practice test to give you a better idea of your current score level.
When you take the test, time it to the specifications of the real AP exam so that you'll be able to tell if you have any issues with time management. Circle any questions for which you don't feel totally confident in your answer. Even if you end up getting them right, you'll want to reexamine that content later on in your review.
Remember that no points are deducted for wrong answers. As a result, you should go ahead and fill in every bubble, even if you end up guessing.
Next, score your practice test by adding up all the points you earned and plugging your results into this online calculator. You'll be able to see approximately where you fall in the AP score range. You can then set a goal for improvement and decide how many hours you'll need to put into your prep.
If you're already scoring in the 5 range, you might not even need to go through all the rest of these steps; you can just do a couple of hours of light review.
If you're not satisfied with your score, however, you should go through all the steps at least once. If you want to improve by one AP point, going through this whole process seriously once or twice should be enough to get you up to speed.
If you're shooting for an improvement of two or more points, you'll probably need to devote a bit more time to studying the material and taking AP Human Geography practice tests. Depending on how quickly you pick up things, you might cycle through the process two, three, or even four times.
Every cycle through this AP Human Geography review plan will become progressively more radical. You can get some sweet air going through your mistakes.
Step 2: Go Through Your Mistakes
Assuming you've decided that your score could use some improvement, it's time to go through your mistakes on the practice test and categorize them.
If you want to see real improvements, this is the most important stage of the entire study process. This is how you'll decide which content areas to focus on in your AP Human Geography review. There's no point in studying concepts and terms you've already mastered.
You might also note whether certain question formats gave you more trouble than others. For example, did you have more problems with questions that asked directly about definitions or regional characteristics, or did you struggle more with logical reasoning questions that required you to apply intuition on top of your knowledge?
To show you what I mean by the latter, here's an example:
You need to know what "physiological population density" means here, but you should also understand on a deeper level why it's considered a useful measurement (the answer is A). If these types of questions were a problem for you because of the extra layer of analysis, try shifting your focus to doing practice questions rather than memorizing content.
Step 3: Study Appropriate Content and Do Practice Questions
After you finish categorizing your mistakes, start looking at notes that correspond to the areas where you had the most trouble on the test. Make sure you're fully absorbing the information you read.
In this case, flashcards might be useful because there are so many terms to remember for AP Human Geography. If you had problems identifying specific regions and connecting them to topics on the test, you might review a world map as well.
If you found the free-response questions especially challenging, you should practice a few more of them before you move on to the next step in this review. You can use some of the sites listed in my study guide for this exam to review specific topics with short multiple-choice quizzes.
I also recommend getting an AP Human Geography review book if you would like more structure and want to see all the content together in one place.
Consider devoting some extra time to reviewing if you took this as a first-semester class and haven't revisited the material in a while. Some schools offer AP Human Geography over the course of just one semester because it doesn't cover as much material as most other AP classes.
Step 4: Take a Second Full Practice Test
When you feel that you've fully addressed all your mistakes on the first practice test, you can take a second timed practice test to see whether you've managed to improve.
After you score this new test, compare your score to the goal you set in the first step. Then, decide whether you want to go through the study process again or are happy with your current score.
If you find that you haven't improved, you will need to reevaluate how you conducted this process and make some changes in the next round. Were you in an environment that was too distracting? Did you skim over the terms and your notes instead of really absorbing them? These are the kinds of things that might cause your efforts to stall.
Sometimes you have to try a few different study methods before you find the one that does the trick.
AP Human Geography: 4 Critical Study Tips and Strategies
In this section, we provide you with some study tips that are specific to this class and will help you successfully navigate your AP Human Geography review.
#1: Memorize Key Terms
Your knowledge of terminology is very important on the AP Human Geography exam. Many multiple-choice questions will ask you to rely on your understanding of terms to choose the correct answer. Take this question, for example:
If you hadn't studied the term "formal region," you'd be hard pressed to answer correctly (the right answer is C, in case you're wondering). Even if you're not asked directly to define a term, you'll still need to know what they mean in order to understand what the question is asking you.
Likewise, on free-response questions, often the first part of the question will ask you to define a term, and the rest of the question will build off that definition. You could find yourself totally lost on these questions if you forget the definitions at their roots!
#2: Practice Free-Response Questions
Free-response questions for AP Human Geography are somewhat different from those you might see on other AP exams. Human Geography falls into a realm between science and the humanities, and the free-response questions reflect that.
You'll need to write explanations and provide examples, but you won't have to come up with actual essays with introductions and conclusions. As such, you should practice getting right to the answer on these questions and avoiding too much fluff. It's best to make it as easy as possible for the grader to award you points!
The College Board website has tons of Human Geography FRQs you can practice answering.
#3: Pace Yourself
Another thing to know about AP Human Geography is that it's a pretty fast-paced exam. You have to answer 60 multiple-choice questions in an hour, which means you'll have about a minute per question. Before you take the test, make sure you can get through that many multiple-choice questions in such a short time span.
You should also time yourself on the three free-response questions, for which you are given an hour and 15 minutes. Aim to spend no more than 20 minutes on any individual free-response question to leave yourself a reasonable time cushion to check your answers at the end.
#4: Understand Geographic Models and Theories
Geographic models and corresponding theories also play a big role on the Human Geography test.
Here's a document we found that lists the most important models you must know for the exam.
I also suggest taking a look at this comprehensive Prezi, which describes the main theories and models covered by the AP Human Geography curriculum. (I apologize in advance for any motion sickness you might experience when viewing information in this unnecessarily turbulent medium!)
Additionally, the Crash Course AP Human Geography review book contains an excellent chapter that summarizes all the models you'll need to know for this exam.
Geographers have come up with many different models to measure the growth and dispersal of the human population around the world. They know exactly how far away we are from a Wall-E situation.
Conclusion: Your Best AP Human Geography Review
The AP Human Geography exam consists of 63 total questions (60 multiple-choice and three free-response) that you'll answer over the course of two hours and 15 minutes. These questions cover seven main topics, or units, which 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
To prepare for the AP Human Geography exam, be sure to take a practice test and evaluate your mistakes. Based on what kinds of mistakes you made, you can then study content selectively.
The essential steps of your AP Human Geography review plan should be as follows:
- Step 1: Take and score an initial practice test
- Step 2: Go through your mistakes
- Step 3: Review appropriate content and do practice questions
- Step 4: Take a second practice test
This review process can be repeated as many times as necessary for you to feel happy with your score level. Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you study:
- Memorize key terms
- Practice free-response questions
- Pace yourself
- Understand geographic models and theories
By following these steps and strategies, you can ensure that you arrive at test day fully prepared and confident in your abilities!
What score do you need to get on an AP test to make it worth your while? Learn more about how AP credit works in college classes.
Are you self-studying for this or other AP exams? Follow our seven-step plan for self-studying to get the most out of your prep time.
How late is too late to prepare effectively for an AP test? Read this article for some helpful advice on when to start studying based on your goals.
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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.