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The Ultimate AP Human Geography Study Guide

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Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Jul 11, 2021 10:28:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP)



In your AP Human Geography class, you'll learn about the dynamics of societies around the world in economic, social, political, and environmental contexts. This course focuses a lot on ideas and models, along with terminology that defines the ways in which we've chosen to inhabit and change our surroundings.

This AP Human Geography study guide is designed to guide you through all the big concepts covered in the course, with an emphasis on cumulative preparation for the AP exam.


How to Use This AP Human Geography Study Guide

This guide will help you review for assessments in your AP Human Geography class by providing links to practice resources and tips on effective study strategies. I'll also give advice that's specific to preparing for the final AP exam.

In the first section, I'll detail a step-by-step process you can follow to create and execute a customized study plan for the test. This process includes taking a diagnostic test, evaluating your weaknesses, studying the content areas you struggled with the most, and taking additional practice tests to check your progress.

To follow up the study plan, I'll list a few key study tips to remember as you revisit the course content and take practice exams. I'll also give you notes for each topic area that you can use to study for in-class tests and review for the AP exam.

Having all this information in one place will hopefully make studying for AP Human Geography much less stressful!


4-Step Study Plan for AP Human Geography

In this section, I'll go through the steps of a basic study plan for the AP Human Geography exam. Most of the principles will also apply to your studying for tests throughout the class, but full practice tests are only important when directly preparing for the final exam.

You can use shorter topic-specific quizzes to diagnose your weaknesses in different units of the Human Geography course earlier in the school year.

For planning purposes, here's the estimated time required for each step below:

  • Step 1: 2.5 hours
  • Step 2: 1 hour
  • Step 3: 2 hours
  • Step 4: 2.5 hours

It should take approximately eight hours to study for the AP Human Geography exam. Of course, you can always extend the time you spend reviewing content if you're rusty on a bunch of different topics or just want to be extra thorough.


Step 1: Take and Score a Full Practice Test

The first step is to take a full AP Human Geography practice test so you can get a better idea of your current score level. When you take the test, time it to the specifications of the real exam so you'll be able to tell if you have any issues with time management.

Keep in mind that on the test, you only have an hour to answer 60 multiple-choice questions; this comes out to a minute per question. To be on the safe side, though, try to get your time down to around 45 seconds per question. The only way to get used to this pace is to take practice tests under realistic conditions.

While there are no official practice tests available, we've collected some of the best unofficial ones in our guide.

As you take the practice test, circle or make note of any questions for which you feel anything less than totally confident in your answer. Even if you end up getting these questions right, you should reexamine the content later in your review to increase your comfort level with the material.

When you're done, score your test so you can see where you fall in the AP range. You can use this online calculator for a decent score estimation based on how many raw points you earned.

Then, set a goal for improvement, and decide how many hours you'll need to put into your prep.

If you have a couple of months, you should be able to put in 20+ hours of study time. This will be an appropriate amount of studying if you're hoping to improve by more than one AP point.

If you only need to improve by one AP point or are just looking to raise your score within the same range, you might be able to wait until the month before the test to start the rest of the process. In total, you shouldn't need to study for more than 10-20 hours.


Step 2: Go Through Your Mistakes

If you decide to begin the rest of this process now, go through your mistakes on the Human Geography practice test and categorize them. This is how you'll decide which content and skill areas to focus on in your review.

There's no point in studying concepts and terms you've already mastered. If you want to see real improvements, this is the most important stage of the study process. You can't fix your mistakes unless you know what they are first!


Step 3: Study Appropriate Content

After you finish analyzing 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 as you read.

In this case, flashcards might be useful because there are so many terms to remember for AP Human Geography. If you found the free-response questions especially challenging, practice a few more of those before you move on to the next step.

You can also use some of the sites I'll link to later in this article to review specific topics with short multiple-choice quizzes.


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 test to see whether your scores have improved. Compare your new score to the goal you set in the first step, and decide whether you want to go through the study process again or are happy with your current score.

If you're satisfied, you can take a break and just do a bit of light review up until the test.

If you haven't improved, reevaluate how you conducted this process and make some changes to your strategy in the next round. Were you in an environment that was too distracting? Did you skim over your notes without really absorbing them? Are you just generally a bit rusty? These are the kinds of things that can cause your progress to stall.


body_rusty.jpgClean off that rust with an acidic solution of facts.


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AP Human Geography: 3 Essential Study Tips

Below are a few of the most valuable strategies to keep in mind as you go through your study plan to prepare for the AP Human Geography exam. These tips should also be helpful for your prep for smaller assessments throughout the school year in your AP class.


#1: Know Your Regions

To get full credit for most free-response questions, you'll have to provide specific examples to support your answers. This means being able to identify the characteristics of world regions in terms of their various cultures, demographics, and physical environments.

You'll see a map of the major regions covered by AP Human Geography in the content section of this guide along with a list of seven units. You should be able to locate each region and identify the relationship it has with each of the seven topic areas.


#2: Memorize Terminology

While knowing your way around a map is important, much of AP Human Geography is about your knowledge of terminology. I highly recommend making flashcards or using online flashcards in your prep (I'll put a link to some of these in the upcoming content section!).

Many multiple-choice questions are essentially just asking for definitions, and some free-response questions begin by asking you to define a term that the rest of the question addresses in more depth.

Even if it's not this direct, knowing your way around the language of the field of human geography will make it far easier for you to understand questions without relying on shaky assumptions or inferences.


#3: Pay Attention to Important Models and Theories

Human Geography is mostly considered a humanities subject, but there are some scientific elements to it. These show up in the form of demographic models that are introduced throughout the course.

It's important to know how to read models and understand what they represent. You should also know how they connect to major theories in human geography and what those theories say about the development of society.

I'll give you a link to a comprehensive list of models and theories at the end of the next section.



Skylar, how many times do I have to explain homophones to you? YOU'RE. NOT. HELPING.


AP Human Geography Topics and Notes

AP Human Geography covers seven major topic areas, or units. In this section, I'll list each of them followed by notes that cover relevant subtopics. You can use these notes in the content review stage of your final study process and throughout the year as you review for in-class tests.

You might find these notes (from CourseNotes) difficult to get through because they're written in such a way that it's hard to pick out key concepts. There are a lot of long paragraphs with no bolding of important terms. If you find these notes borderline incomprehensible, you should try getting a review book that puts all the content in clearer terms. I think Cracking the AP Human Geography Exam is a good starting point.

As a precursor to the notes, here's a map of all the world regions that are discussed throughout the course. You'll need to consider how these topics apply differently to varying locations around the globe:


Unit 1: Thinking Geographically


Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes


Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes


Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes


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


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


Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes


Because terms are so important on this exam, I also recommend checking out this full list of all vocab covered by the course (provided by Quizlet) so you can review all the vocab you'll need to know in one place.

In addition, take a look at this overview of the different human geography theories and models.


When lots of humans get together to form an urban community, they can't help but color on everything. What an adorable species.


Top Resources for Your AP Human Geography Review

Below are some resources you can use to test your knowledge of AP Human Geography content and take practice tests and quizzes.


Official Course and Exam Descriptions

Although there are no official AP Human Geography practice tests available, the College Board has released plenty of sample practice questions you can use in your prep through its free Course and Exam Description (CED) PDFs.

The current CED for 2020, which has been fully updated for the new test format, contains 15 multiple-choice questions and two free-response questions, as well as a scoring guide.

There's also the 2015 Human Geography CED, which has 23 multiple-choice questions and six free-response questions you can practice with. Just be aware that this guide is not aligned with the new format of the AP exam.


Official Free-Response Questions and Scoring Guides

In addition to Course and Exam Descriptions, the College Board maintains a huge archive of free-response questions that have been asked on the AP Human Geography exam since 2001. We recommend using these after you've practiced with the sample FRQs in the 2020 Course and Exam Description (see above resource).

Most of these FRQs also come with scoring guidelines and sample student responses so you can get a better sense of how to earn full points on them.


AP Classroom

AP Classroom is a new creation by the College Board that allows AP teachers to keep track of their students' progress through a virtual classroom. Here, teachers can test students' skills by sending them AP Human Geography practice questions on a regular basis.


Highly Rated Review Books

AP Human Geography review books are useful resources that provide access to additional practice questions and tests. They often include diagnostic tests that will help you determine your weak areas accurately and with less legwork on your part.

Especially in a subject like Human Geography that can be a little elusive, books will help you figure out exactly what you need to study and how you should study it.

Some solid review books for this exam include the following:


Sporcle Geography Quizzes

As I mentioned in the tips section, it's important to know your world regions for AP Human Geography so you can back up your answers with specific examples.

You don't need to be a complete expert on where every country is located, but these quizzes are both fun and educational, so I recommend checking them out (warning: super addictive!).


Varsity Tutors Diagnostic Tests

Famed test-prep company Varsity Tutors offers four diagnostic tests for AP Human Geography, each with 75 multiple-choice questions. (Be aware that the current test format only consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, so you can skip 15 of these in your practice.)

The tests have automatic scoring, and each is given a preliminary difficulty level rating. There are also tons of mini-quizzes listed by concept if you want to practice topic-specific questions, as well as flashcards that will help you learn all the course terminology.


Albert Practice Questions

Albert offers quizzes on every AP Human Geography topic, with questions categorized by topic and unit. Quizzes here range in length from just three to as many as 62 questions, and the website keeps a running tally of how many questions you've answered correctly. You'll need to pay for an account to access most of the materials, however.


Chapter Quizzes for Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities

If you select a chapter of this book on the left-hand navigation bar, you can scroll down and click on a link for a multiple-choice quiz. These quizzes are helpful review materials, even if your class isn't using this particular textbook.


body_enjoysuccess.jpgNow, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor in the form of an A and/or 5.


Recap: Using This AP Human Geography Study Guide

This AP Human Geography study guide has covered a review plan for the AP test, tips for success in studying throughout the year, and a list of all the topics covered in the AP Human Geography curriculum and on the exam.

The steps in a successful AP Human Geography study plan should look something like this:

  • Step 1: Take and score a practice test
  • Step 2: Go through your mistakes
  • Step 3: Study appropriate content
  • Step 4: Take a second practice test

Again, you can go through this process multiple times if you don't get the results you want in the first round. Just pay close attention to whether or not you're improving. If not, make changes to amp up the effectiveness of your content review.

Some study tips to keep in mind as you study for the AP Human Geography test and any in-class assessments include the following:

  • Know your world regions
  • Memorize terminology
  • Pay attention to major geographic models and theories

After you're clear on the fundamentals of how to study, you can use the notes and prep resources in the second half of this article to prepare for unit quizzes, midterms, and the final AP exam.


What's Next?

Thinking about self-studying for this AP course—or other AP courses? Find out more about whether AP self-study is right for you and which AP classes are the most manageable options.

If you're still planning out your schedule for the future, check out our guide on which other history classes you should take after AP Human Geography.

You might also be interested in these articles that discuss AP credit policies at colleges and which classes you should take in high school based on your college goals.


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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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