AP Human Geography Exam: Your Questions Answered

November 4, 2020
By AdmissionSight

AP Human Geography Exam: Your Questions Answered

Every year, high school students have the option to 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. One of the most popular options for self-studiers – students who take the exams without enrolling in the courses – in the AP Human Geography Exam. While many students still opt to enroll in the AP Human Geography Course, the exam is conducive to self-studying because of the strong focus on specific theory and vocabulary. Regardless if you’ve taken the AP Course or not, you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of major field-related concepts and possess relevant skills to successfully take 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 ways to study.

paper dolls in front of a globe

When is the AP Human Geography Exam?

Unlike other standard exams that are offered multiple times throughout the year, students only have one calendar day per year to take the AP Exams. When researching exam times, be sure you’re looking for the appropriate year since the exact dates of each test tend to fluctuate. The AP Human Geography Exam in 2021 will be administered on Tuesday, May 4 at 12:00 pm. We always advise students to plan their route to the testing facility before exam day and to give themselves sufficient time to arrive punctually. With only one test date, there’s not a lot of room for error. For more specific information regarding test dates and times, visit this College Board page.

What does the AP Human Geography Exam contain?

Similar to all AP Exams, the AP Human Geography Exam assesses your ability to understand, recall, and apply the various skills and concepts covered in the AP Human Geography Course. As a result, making sense of what’s contained in the course will make it easier to anticipate what the exam will cover. Self-studiers are especially advised to review these course skills since they have no direct experience with AP Human Geography classes. The course guides students through the systematic understanding of processes and patterns that work to shape human alteration, use, and knowledge of Earth’s surface.

In order to succeed on the exam, students will need to be able to employ landscape analysis and spatial concepts to make sense of socioeconomic organization and the resulting impact on the environment. Both the course and subsequent exam will also require you to learn about the tools and methods used by geographers to conduct their research. Overall, topics regarding agriculture, cultural patterns, and geography will be covered.

Below, we’ve highlighted the seven different skills that the AP Human Geography Exam will test along with their various weights on each section of the final exam. Throughout the duration of the related course, these skills will be overviewed, practised, and rehearsed. Those who are taking the exam without the course will have to rely on their own studying.

% of Exam Score (Multiple-Choice)
 % of Exam Score(Free-Response)
Processes and Concepts The analysis of geographical processes, models, theories, approaches, or concepts in applied and theoretical contexts.  25%–36%  23%–29%
 Spatial Relationships The analysis of geographic outcomes, relationships, and patterns in applied situations.  16%–25%  33%–43%
Data Analysis  The interpretation and analysis of quantitative geographic data as is represented in infographics, satellite images, graphs, charts, tables, and maps.  13%–20%  10%–19%
Source Analysis The interpretation and analysis of qualitative geographic information as presented in images (i.e. cartoons, photographs, satellite), landscapes, and maps.  13%–20%  10%–19%
Scale Analysis The analysis of geographic models, concepts, processes, theories, and approaches across various geographic scales in order to explain spatial relationships.  13%–20%  10%–14%

How is the AP Human Geography Exam broken down?

The skills we just outlined form the basis of the AP Human Geography which is the principal source that informs the questions being asked on the related exam. Additionally, there are seven units that explain to which areas these skills will need to be applied. AdmissionSight has provided a further breakdown of these various units to give students a clearer idea of how the test will look and what information they can expect to be covered.

% of Exam Score (Multiple-Choice)
Thinking Geographically  8%-10%
Population and Migration Patterns and Processes  12%–17%
Cultural Patterns and Processes  12%–17%
Political Patterns and Processes  12%–17%
Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes  12%–17%
Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes  12%–17%
Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes  12%–17%

What is the format of the AP Human Geography Exam?

The Human Geography Exam isn’t only a popular choice among students for its straight-forward material. It also happens to be one of the shortest AP Exams with a time-limit of two hours and 15 minutes. The first section eats up one hour of that overall time and is comprised of 75 multiple-choice questions. 50% of your exam score will be decided by this portion. The remaining 50% of the AP Human Geography Exam score results from the three free-response essays that follow in the second section. This part of the test takes clocks in at one hour and 15 minutes.

In order to answer these questions successfully, you’ll need to have an ability to synthesize a variety of topics, evaluate and analyze geographical concepts, explain and implement real-life examples to explain geographic concepts, interpret diagrams, graphs, and maps, and develop responses in a narrative format. Let’s take a closer look at each section in greater detail.

Section 1: Multiple Choice

The first section of the AP Human Geography consists exclusively of multiple-choice questions, making it an enticing section for students who appreciate the simple format. While there are standard, stand-alone multiple-choice questions, there are also some set-based questions. This means that two or more consecutive questions reference similar topics or material. On a related note, roughly 30% to 40% of the multiple-choice questions in this first section reference some form of stimuli material such as landscapes, infographics, images, graphs, charts, tables, and/or maps. These are roughly split evenly between qualitative and quantitative sources.

Section 2: Free Response

The second half of the AP Human Geography Exam focuses solely on free-response questions that provide students with authentic geographic scenarios or situations in order to assess an ability to apply, explain, and describe geographic models, processes, or concepts while analyzing geographic outcomes, relationships, and patterns in applied contexts. The first free-response questions don’t include any stimuli material. However, the second and third questions do include stimuli in the form of a map, an image, or data. The final free-response question includes two stimuli while the second question only includes one. Two of the three questions in this section will test your ability to assess across multiple geographic scales in order to explain spatial relationships.

What are the passing rates of the AP Human Geography Exam?

Exam 1 2 3 4 5
AP Human Geography 28.6% 17% 21.5% 19.8% 13%

In 2018, 54.4% of students taking the AP Human Geography Exam received a score of 3 or higher. A flat 13% of students received the highest score of 5 while 28.6% received the lowest score of 1. It’s difficult to get an average score over the course of several years since the number of people taking the exam and the types of questions can have a great impact on the score results each year. Don’t forget that these scores represent a wide variety of students who took the exam at different preparation levels. Students who participate in the AP Human Geography Course or self-studiers who prepare with intensity will most likely realize that the test is easier than the results might suggest.

What are the best ways to prepare 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 give you a better understanding of 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 what progress you’ve made 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 some accurate sample test questions. If you’re looking for something a little more comprehensive, you’ll want to invest in a full 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 get a better understanding of where your knowledge stands regarding major topics covered on the Human Geography Exam, you can move onto studying some of the material in greater detail. Since the exam includes questions regarding maps, figures, and vocab, it’s best to get your hands on some 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 you. For those students looking for something a little less dense, the Princeton Review has another popular resource: Cracking the AP Human Geography Exam. This succinct 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 outline online that anyone can access. There’s even one high school in Florida that 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 make 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. If you’re able to get your hands on a few complete practice exams, you can take the whole multiple-choice section. As you practice, make sure you keep track of what bits of information are still giving you trouble. You’ll want to review this theory before taking the real 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 the free-response questions on this exam consist of multiple different parts that request you to prove your understanding of a certain topic in different ways. In order to answer the entire question, you should keep an eye out for the task verbs, including terms like forecast, predict, describe, explain, contrast, compare, and define. It’s a good idea to circle or underline these words so you can keep track of each response you need. One of the quickest ways to lose points on this test is to not answer the free-response questions thoroughly enough.

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 to make for a more composed response. You’ll probably have to ditch a typical intro and conclusion in order to dive directly into the meat of the content. Many of the study resources we mentioned prior 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 straight-forward 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 really prepare you for other factors present during the real exam. One of the best ways to determine your readiness for the real AP Human Geography Exam is to stage a mock test day by yourself. Try your best to recreate the test settings by finding a quiet space where you won’t be distracted. Make sure all of your notes, textbooks, and flashcards are out of reach. Use a comprehensive sample test that’s the same length as the actual AP Human Geography Exam. Don’t forget to set a timer on your phone or alarm clock

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