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The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Human Geography Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a globe with a bookshelf blurred in the background

The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Human Geography Exam

Every year, high school students can take Advanced Placement (AP) Exams offered by the College Board. Although each exam has an associated AP Course, any student can take the AP tests. The AP Human Geography Exam is one of the most popular options for self-studiers.

While many students still opt to enroll in the AP Human Geography Course, the exam is conducive to self-studying because of the intense focus on specific theory and vocabulary. Regardless of whether you’ve taken the AP Course, you’ll need to understand major field-related concepts thoroughly and possess relevant skills to successfully handle the AP Human Geography Exam. AdmissionSight has answered some of the most common questions regarding this exam in the following guide. To help students make the most of this exam, we explain what you’ll be tested on, how the exam is broken down, and the most effective study methods.

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What is the AP Human Geography Exam?

The AP Human Geography Exam is a standardized test administered by the College Board. It is designed to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of human geography. The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and free-response questions. It is typically taken by high school students who have completed a course in AP Human Geography.

Human geography is a fascinating field that explores the relationship between people and their environments. It delves into the patterns and processes that shape our world, examining population, migration, culture, language, religion, and urbanization. By studying human geography, students understand how societies are organized and how they interact with their surroundings.

The AP Human Geography Exam allows students to showcase their understanding of these complex concepts. The multiple-choice section tests their knowledge of key terms, concepts, and theories, while the free-response section allows them to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios. This comprehensive assessment ensures that students have a solid grasp of the subject matter and are prepared for further studies in geography or related fields.

Preparing for the AP Human Geography Exam involves more than just memorizing facts and figures. It requires critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze data and maps, and the capacity to make connections between different geographic phenomena. Students must be able to think spatially and understand how various factors interact to shape human behavior and the physical landscape.

During the exam, students are challenged to think critically and apply their knowledge to solve problems. They may be asked to analyze demographic data, interpret maps and graphs, or explain the impact of human activities on the environment. Students can earn college credit and stand out in college admissions by demonstrating their understanding of these complex concepts.

Furthermore, the AP Human Geography Exam provides students with valuable skills that extend beyond the classroom. The ability to think critically, analyze data, and make informed decisions is highly sought in many careers, including urban planning, environmental management, international relations, and market research. By mastering the content and skills tested on the exam, students are better prepared for future academic and professional success.

Why is the AP Human Geography Exam important?

The AP Human Geography Exam is essential because it can earn you college credit or advanced placement in college. By earning a high score on the exam, you can demonstrate your proficiency in the subject and potentially save time and money by skipping introductory college courses. Additionally, the exam can be a valuable evaluation tool for measuring your understanding of human geography.

Human geography is a fascinating field that explores the relationship between people and their environment. It delves into population distribution, cultural patterns, economic systems, urban development, and political organization. The AP Human Geography Exam allows students to showcase their knowledge and skills in these areas.

One of the key benefits of taking the AP Human Geography Exam is the potential to earn college credit. Many colleges and universities offer credit or advanced placement to students who score well on the exam. This means that you can start your college journey with a head start, having already completed a college-level course in human geography. Not only does this save you time, but it can also save you money by reducing the number of studies you need to take in college.

Moreover, the exam is a valuable evaluation tool for students and educators. For students, it provides an opportunity to assess their understanding of human geography and identify areas where they may need to develop their knowledge further. It allows them to gauge their progress and determine their strengths and weaknesses.

The AP Human Geography Exam helps educators evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching methods and curriculum. It provides valuable feedback on how well students have grasped the concepts and skills taught throughout the course. This feedback can improve instruction and ensure students are adequately prepared for college-level work.

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Furthermore, the AP Human Geography Exam encourages critical thinking and analytical skills. It requires students to analyze and interpret data, maps, and other geographic information. This enhances their understanding of human geography and develops their ability to think critically and make informed decisions based on evidence.

Taking the AP Human Geography Exam, students also gain exposure to the rigors of a college-level assessment. The exam is designed to reflect the type of work students will encounter in college, helping them develop the necessary skills and mindset for success in higher education. It challenges students to think critically, synthesize information, and effectively communicate their ideas.

How long is the AP Human Geography Exam?

The AP Human Geography Exam is 2 hours and 15 minutes long. It consists of two sections, each contributing 50% to the total exam score:

Section I: Multiple Choice

    • 60 questions
    • 1-hour duration
    • This section accounts for 50% of the exam score
    • Approximately 30%–40% of the multiple-choice questions will reference stimulus material, including maps, tables, charts, graphs, images, infographics, and/or landscapes, roughly evenly divided between quantitative and qualitative sources.

Section II: Free Response

    • 3 questions
    • 1 hour 15 minutes duration
    • This section also accounts for 50% of the exam score
    • At least one of the free-response questions assesses students’ ability to analyze across geographic scales to explain spatial relationships.

What is on the AP Human Geography Exam?

The AP Human Geography Exam covers a wide range of topics that fall under the umbrella of human geography. This includes population, migration, culture, political geography, economic geography, urbanization, and more. The exam assesses your ability to analyze geographic patterns, understand spatial relationships, and apply geographic principles to real-world scenarios.

Multiple-Choice Section

The multiple-choice section of the AP Human Geography Exam is 1 hour long and consists of 60 questions, which account for 50% of the total exam score. The questions test students’ skills in defining, explaining, analyzing, and interpreting geographic data and concepts. Students will be asked to analyze geographic concepts, processes, patterns, and relationships, interpret geographic information represented visually in maps, satellite images, photographs, cartoons, and landscapes, and analyze spatial relationships using geographic scales. 

Tackling the Multiple-Choice Section

To tackle the multiple-choice section of the AP Human Geography exam effectively, students can follow these strategies:

  1. Practice with Multiple-Choice Questions:
    • Utilize resources that offer practice tests and questions similar to those on the AP Human Geography exam.
    • Aim to tackle at least two multiple-choice questions every day to reinforce critical concepts.
  2. Analyze Geographic Data and Concepts:
    • Develop skills in defining, explaining, analyzing, and interpreting geographic data and concepts, as these are the focus of the multiple-choice questions.
  3. Interpret Stimulus Material:
    • Approximately 30%–40% of the multiple-choice questions will reference stimulus material, including maps, tables, charts, graphs, images, infographics, and/or landscapes, so it’s essential to practice interpreting and analyzing such visual information.
  4. Time Management:
    • Since the multiple-choice section consists of 60 questions to be completed in 1 hour, it’s crucial to practice time management and ensure that each question is answered within the allocated time.
  5. Use Reliable Practice Resources:
    • Consider using reputable resources such as UWorld’s Learning Tools for AP Courses, which provides timed practice questions replicating the time constraints of the AP Human Geography exam.

By consistently practicing with multiple-choice questions, analyzing geographic data and concepts, and effectively managing time, students can approach the multiple-choice section of the AP Human Geography exam with confidence and perform at their best

Free-Response Section

The free-response section of the AP Human Geography Exam is 1 hour and 15 minutes long and consists of three questions, each contributing 7 raw points to the total exam score. The free-response questions present students with authentic geographic situations or scenarios and assess their ability to describe, explain, and apply geographic concepts, processes, or models as they analyze geographic patterns, relationships, and outcomes in applied contexts.

The free-response section includes three questions, and each question has a different format:

  • Question 1 does not include any stimuli.
  • Question 2 includes 1 stimulus (data, image, or map).
  • Question 3 includes 2 stimuli (data, images, and/or maps).

At least one of the free-response questions assesses students’ ability to analyze across geographic scales to explain spatial relationships. Students will be asked to demonstrate their knowledge and critical thinking about the content of AP Human Geography and demonstrate a well-thought-out structure that is easy for a reader to follow.

Here are some sample questions and answers from previous exams so you’d know what to expect:

samples from AP Human Geography exam samples from AP Human Geography exam samples from AP Human Geography exam samples from AP Human Geography exam samples from AP Human Geography exam

Tackling the free-response section

To tackle the free-response section of the AP Human Geography exam effectively, students can follow these strategies:

  1. Plan Your Responses:
    • Before writing, read the prompt carefully and plan your response to ensure you address all parts of the question.
    • Allocate time for each question and ensure that you have enough time to answer all three questions.
  2. Analyze Geographic Data and Concepts:
    • Develop skills in describing, explaining, and applying geographic concepts, processes, or models as they analyze geographic patterns, relationships, and outcomes in applied contexts.
    • Use evidence from the course to support your analysis and explanation.
  3. Interpret Stimulus Material:
    • At least one of the free-response questions assesses students’ ability to analyze across geographic scales to explain spatial relationships.
    • If there is a map, chart, graph, or diagram with the question, study it carefully before beginning your answer.
  4. Use Task Verbs:
    • Pay close attention to the task verbs used in the free-response questions, as each directs you to complete a specific type of response.
    • Structure your response by using task verbs such as compare, define, explain, analyze, and evaluate.
  5. Practice with Free-Response Questions:
    • Practice with free-response questions from previous AP exams to compare your responses with those already evaluated and scored.
    • Use the College Board’s Exam Questions and Scoring Information section to review the latest released free-response questions and scoring guidelines.

By planning responses, analyzing geographic data and concepts, interpreting stimulus material, using task verbs, and practicing with free-response questions, students can approach the free-response section of the AP Human Geography exam with confidence and perform at their best.

Topics Covered on the AP Human Geography Exam

The AP Human Geography Exam covers a wide range of topics, including:

Unit Exam Weighting (Multiple-Choice Section)
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%

1. Population

One important aspect of human geography is the study of population. This includes understanding population growth, distribution, and density. You will explore concepts such as birth rates, death rates, fertility rates, and migration patterns. Additionally, you will analyze the impact of population growth on resources, urbanization, and the environment.

2. Migration

Migration is another crucial topic in human geography. You will examine different types of migration, including internal migration (within a country) and international migration (between countries). You will explore the reasons behind migration, such as economic opportunities, political factors, and environmental factors. Understanding migration patterns and their consequences is essential to grasp the complexities of human geography.

3. Culture

Culture plays a significant role in shaping human geography. You will delve into the study of cultural traits, including language, religion, ethnicity, and customs. Understanding cultural landscapes and how they evolve is crucial to analyzing the spatial distribution of different cultures. You will also explore the impact of cultural diffusion and globalization on local and regional cultures.

4. Political Geography

Political geography focuses on studying political systems, boundaries, and territorial divisions. You will examine concepts such as states, nations, sovereignty, and governance. Additionally, you will analyze geopolitical issues, including conflicts, alliances, and the impact of political decisions on human geography. Understanding political geography is essential to comprehend the complexities of power dynamics and their spatial implications.

5. Economic Geography

Economic geography explores the spatial distribution of economic activities, including industries, trade, and development. You will analyze financial systems, globalization, and regional disparities. Understanding the factors that influence economic growth, such as resources, infrastructure, and labor, is crucial to grasp the economic dimensions of human geography.

6. Urbanization

The urbanization process and its impact on human geography is another significant topic covered in the exam. You will explore the growth of cities, urban planning, and the social, economic, and environmental challenges associated with urban areas. Understanding the spatial organization of cities, including land use patterns, transportation systems, and urban sprawl, is essential to analyze the complexities of urban geography.

These are just a few examples of the topics covered in the AP Human Geography Exam. The exam requires you to apply your knowledge of these subjects to analyze real-world scenarios and make connections between different geographic concepts. By studying these topics in-depth, you will develop a comprehensive understanding of human geography and its relevance in today’s world.

As outlined in the CED, the framework for AP Human Geography delineates specific skills that students should engage in throughout the year. These skills are designed to cultivate their ability to think and act like geographers:

Skill Description Exam Weighting (Multiple-Choice Section) Exam Weighting (Free-Response Section)
1. Concepts and Processes Analyze geographic theories, approaches, concepts, processes, or models in theoretical and applied contexts 25%–36% 23%–29%
2. Spatial Relationships Analyze geographic patterns, relationships, and outcomes in applied contexts 16%–25% 33%–43%
3. Data Analysis Analyze and interpret quantitative geographic data represented in maps, tables, charts, graphs, satellite images, and infographics 13%–20% 10%–19%
4. Source Analysis Analyze and interpret qualitative geographic information represented in maps, images (e.g., satellite, photographs, cartoons), and landscapes 13%–20% 10%–19%
5. Scale Analysis Analyze geographic theories, approaches, concepts, processes, and models across geographic scales to explain spatial relationships 13%–20% 10%–14%

How hard is the AP Human Geography Exam?

Determining the difficulty level of the AP Human Geography exam is subjective, but factors such as pass rate, amount of study materials, and existing subject skills are significant considerations. Students tend to regard the course content as “easy,” while the exam is difficult.

The course material and the amount of material the curriculum covers can also influence the difficulty of the exam. AP Human Geography requires seven units of study in topics designed to build spatial perception and comparative skills. The exam is designed to test a higher level of content synthesis and critical thinking, which can make it more challenging than a regular human geography course.

Young student using a laptop.

How to study for the AP Human Geography Exam

Test your knowledge – The best place to start preparing for the AP Human Geography Exam – and any test for that matter – is to get an accurate assessment of your current knowledge. These formative assessments conducted at the onset of your studying can help you better understand what you already know and what you need to study more. As we’ll explain later, this initial test also makes it easier to see your progress throughout your preparation for the exam.

The College Board site for the AP Human Geography Exam is a great place to start since it provides visitors with accurate sample test questions. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive, you’ll want to invest in a complete sample test that can be found for free online in a few places (like here and here) or in book form through various sources. We’ll explore a few of these options in the following section.

Study the material – After you better understand your knowledge regarding significant topics covered on the Human Geography Exam, you can study some of the material in greater detail. Since the exam includes questions regarding maps, figures, and vocab, it’s best to get reliable study resources to make your test preparation more efficient and accurate.

AdmissionSight strongly recommends the Barron AP Human Geography study resource. This is easily one of the most comprehensive, complete, and reputable study guides. However, some people suggest that the book is too lengthy. If you find studying textbook-like resources helpful, this is the best option. For those students looking for something less dense, the Princeton Review has another popular resource: Cracking the AP Human Geography Exam. This concise resource comes with a handy vocab list and detailed maps.

The long-standing format of the AP Human Geography Exam makes it easier to find reliable and relevant studying resources online. Many AP teachers post comprehensive study guides and outlines online that anyone can access. Even one high school in Florida offers its entire AP Human Geography Course content online. This includes selected readings, test reviews, notes, and presentations. You can find another thorough 66-page study guide here. The test’s stress on vocabulary and specific theories makes studying with flashcards very efficient. You can search Quizlet for free flashcards created by fellow students or buy a set along with the Barron study guide.

Practice multiple-choice questions – The simplicity of multiple-choice questions can lead students to assume that preparation for the first section of the AP Human Geography Exam isn’t necessary. However, the skills and concepts tested in this format shouldn’t be taken lightly. You can put your abilities to the test by answering some practice multiple-choice questions you find in study guides or through various online sources. You can take the whole multiple-choice section if you can get a few complete practice exams. As you practice, keep track of what bits of information are still giving you trouble. You’ll want to review this theory before taking the actual exam.

Practice free-response essays – The section portion of the AP Human Geography test is significantly more involved than the multiple-choice section. Most of this exam’s free-response questions consist of multiple parts that request you to prove your understanding of a specific topic differently. You should watch for the task verbs to answer the question, including terms like forecast, predict, describe, explain, contrast, compare, and define. It’s a good idea to circle or underline these words to keep track of each response you need. One of the quickest ways to lose points on this test is not to answer the free-response questions thoroughly.

When we divide this section’s time limit by the number of free-response questions on the exam, we see that students are left with roughly 25 minutes per answer. Outlining your main ideas before starting your essay is a great way to organize your thoughts for a more composed response. You’ll probably have to ditch a typical intro and conclusion to dive directly into the meat of the content. Many of the study resources we mentioned previously contain example free-response questions you can use to prepare for the AP Human Geography Exam. While the answers to the multiple-choice questions are straightforward and objective, you might need to have a friend or teacher grade your free-response sample questions since they’re a little more subjective.

Mimic the test settings – As you’ve probably experienced in the past, studying theory and question types doesn’t prepare you for other factors present during the actual exam. One of the best ways to determine your readiness for the real AP Human Geography Exam is to stage a mock test day yourself. Try to recreate the test settings by finding a quiet space where you won’t be distracted. Ensure all your notes, textbooks, and flashcards are out of reach. Use a comprehensive sample test the same length as the AP Human Geography Exam. Don’t forget to set a timer on your phone or alarm clock.

Tips on the day of the exam

On the day of the AP Human Geography Exam, it is crucial to be well-prepared and ensure you are in the right mindset. Here are some tips to help you perform at your best:

  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep: Get enough sleep the night before the exam to be well-rested and mentally sharp.
  • Eat a Healthy Breakfast: Fuel your brain and body with a nutritious meal before the exam to enhance focus and concentration.
  • Arrive Early: Plan to arrive at the exam location early to avoid any unexpected delays or stress.
  • Read the Instructions Carefully: Take the time to carefully read and understand each exam section’s instructions.
  • Manage Your Time: Keep track of the time allotted for each section and pace yourself accordingly to ensure you have enough time to answer all the questions.
  • Stay Calm and Confident: Stay calm and confident throughout the exam. Trust in your preparation and abilities.

When is the AP Human Geography Exam in 2024?

The AP Human Geography exam in 2024 is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, at 8:00 AM local time. For a complete list of the 2024 AP Exam dates, here’s a full list:

Week 1 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time

Monday,

May 6, 2024

United States Government and Politics Art History

Chemistry

Tuesday,

May 7, 2024

Human Geography

Microeconomics

Seminar

Statistics

Wednesday,

May 8, 2024

English Literature and Composition Comparative Government and Politics

Computer Science A

Thursday,

May 9, 2024

Chinese Language and Culture

Environmental Science

Psychology
Friday,

May 10, 2024

European History

United States History

Macroeconomics

Spanish Literature and Culture

Art and Design: Friday, May 10, 2024 (8 p.m. ET), is the deadline for AP Art and Design students to submit their three portfolio components as final in the AP Digital Portfolio.
Week 2 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 2 p.m.

Local Time

Monday,

May 13, 2024

Calculus AB

Calculus BC

Italian Language and Culture

Precalculus

Tuesday,

May 14, 2024

English Language and Composition African American Studies

Physics C: Mechanics

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
Wednesday,

May 15, 2024

French Language and Culture

World History: Modern

Computer Science Principles

Music Theory

Thursday,

May 16, 2024

Spanish Language and Culture Biology

Japanese Language and Culture

Friday,

May 17, 2024

German Language and Culture

Physics 1: Algebra-Based

Latin

Physics 2: Algebra-Based

For more specific test dates and times, visit this College Board page.

When do AP scores come out?

AP scores are typically released in early to mid-July of the year the exams were taken. The exact release date may vary slightly from year to year, but students who took their AP exams in May can generally expect their scores to become available.

You can check for updates on the College Board’s official AP scores website if you are waiting for your AP scores. They will also email you when your scores are added to your score report. If you haven’t received your scores by mid-August, contacting AP Services for Students is recommended for assistance.

Post-exam tips

Once the AP Human Geography Exam is over, there are a few things you can do to make the most of the experience:

  • Reflect on Your Performance: Take some time to reflect on your performance in the exam and identify areas where you did well and areas where you could improve.
  • Learn from Mistakes: If you made any mistakes during the exam, use them as learning opportunities for future exams or assessments.
  • Review Exam Content: Review the content covered in the exam to reinforce your understanding of the subject and fill in any gaps in your knowledge.
  • Celebrate Your Achievements: Regardless of your score, be proud of your efforts and celebrate the completion of the AP Human Geography Exam. It’s a significant accomplishment!

AdmissionSight is here for you.

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