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How to Study for AP Human Geography

How to Study for AP Human Geography


If you are reading this article, then either you are researching whether AP Human Geography is a class that interests you or are trying to figure out where to start studying for the course. Fortunately, we have prepared a simple plan for you to follow to better direct your efforts. AP classes and their respective exams are not something to be taken lightly due to the sheer volume of material. AP Human Geography also covers greater amounts of information compared to other classes since the class itself is so broad. Don’t worry, though, with this AP Human Geography study plan; you will be ready to tackle the necessary review to get a 5 on the exam.

As you read through this AP Human Geography study guide, we are going to follow three easy steps: what content is going to be covered in the class and on the exam, familiarizing yourself with the format of the test, and developing a rigorous review process to better remember the material. We know what you are thinking: these steps seem too easy, and you are correct. However, don’t underestimate the power of simplicity. This guide will allow you to take on AP classes and exams. This AP Human Geography study plan covers all of the topics you are going to need. As you read the article, you will find the information and resources that will put you on track to get that 5. Why don’t we get started!

Step 1: Figure Out What’s on the Exam

Your first step is to determine exactly how the exam is structured and what to expect when you begin your learning or reviewing. This not only allows you to figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are, but also gives you a chance to prep yourself mentally for when you sit for the exam. By exposing yourself to the types of questions you are going to see, you give yourself a better chance of choosing the right answers simply because you have seen similar concepts so many times.

AP Human Geography Topics and Learning Objectives

When you first begin developing your AP Human Geography study plan, you will want to look at the course curriculum. AP Human Geography is composed of seven wide-ranging topics, and they will all appear on the AP Human Geography exam in some form or another, whether it is a multiple-choice question or a free-response question. A major issue we are going to help you with is how to properly divide your time among the seven topics to spend your time more efficiently.

In the following list, we are going to provide the seven topics the AP Human Geography exam focuses on. Along with each respective section, we are also going to provide supplementary study materials (i.e. flashcards or a review video). By giving you a greater context of all the topics, you’ll be able to divide the seven issues into two lists: strengths and weaknesses.

Topic 1: Geography: Its Nature and Perspectives

Approximate percentage of the exam: 5-10%

This is the smallest section of the AP Human Geography exam, but that does not mean it is any less important. It forms the foundation for the course and delves into the idea of human effects on geography and how geography affects us. When you are studying geography, you are doing more than looking at a map. You also study different climates humans inhabit. Important concepts include the ecosystems of different areas and the roles nature plays in their formation and maintenance. You will also be looking at the tools necessary to study geography and how information is collected. Then you will look at how the world is divided into different regions. According to CollegeBoard, this particular section can be further split into six subsections:

  1. Geography as a field of inquiry
  2. Location, Space, Place, Scale, Pattern, Nature and Society, Regionalization, Globalization, and Gender Issues
  3. Key geographical skills
  4. Using geospatial technology like GIS, Remote Sensing, GPS, etc.
  5. Sources of geographical information and ideas: the field, census data, online data, aerial photography, and satellite imagery
  6. Identification of major world regions

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Topic 2: Population

Approximate percentage of the exam: 13-17%

Since AP Human Geography focuses on the study of humanity and their environment, one of the major topics you will study is population. You will want to have a basic understanding of how societies develop, change over time, and their effects on the micro and macro levels of the environment it inhabits. One of the areas you will be directing your efforts is the population of humans over time and how it has changed regarding density, the area populated, and the reasons for them. Time plays a big role in population growth because human history is riddled with portions where our ancestors struggled against their surroundings to prosper. From then till now, people have experienced an exponential population growth that brings its set of unique problems. You will also want to review migration and how different movements over different duration of time have created community centers all over the world. According to CollegeBoard, these are the areas you need to focus on when studying population:

  1. Geographical analysis of population
  2. Population growth and decline over time and space
  3. Migration

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Topic 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes

Approximate percentage of the exam: 13-17%

This topic will take you through the concept of culture: how it is defined, its different traits, as well as its dimensions. Examples of its various features include language, religion, ethnicity, and gender. Sections will cover the idea of language families and how populations within an area can have languages that are related and may even sound similar.

Religion and ethnicity are also key features of culture in that they often shape human interaction with the world. Furthermore, you will examine these parts as they developed and changed over time. This will be an in-depth look at the growth of traditional values in a society and how they can be usurped by radical forces from within or external pressure from the outside. You will also look at the development of culture across geography and how distance creates nuance across populations. Cultural practices are often created because of human interaction with the land around them; this can lead to patterns that are common throughout a region. According to CollegeBoard, the following topics are the focus of this section.

  1. Concepts of culture
  2. Cultural differences and regional patterns
  3. Cultural landscapes and cultural identity

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Topic 4: Political Organization of Space

Approximate percentage of the exam: 13-17%

You will learn about how political organization develops at different levels, whether local or international. Politics typically follows the idea of how a population occupies a territory and leads to various developments, such as the monopoly of power within a geographic space, and how borders develop, marking territory belonging to certain groups. Examples of this include sovereign nations and their relationships with other countries but can also mean the usage of force to subject a different country, leading to topics like colonialism and imperialism. A major part of the political organization is the interaction of nations across the international stage. This can come through armed struggles or economic battles. They can also go through official channels when countries appeal to international bodies to create peaceful solutions. Examples include the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. Here are the areas you should focus on, as determined by the CollegeBoard.

  1. Territorial dimensions of politics
  2. Evolution of the contemporary political pattern
  3. Challenges to inherited political-territorial arrangements

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Topic 5: Agricultural and Rural Land Use

Approximate percentage of the exam: 13-17%

When we discuss populations, politics, or even culture, a primary catalyst for these developments in human history is food. Or rather, how we create food. In this section, you are going to look at how we transitioned from a hunter-gatherer existence and, instead, began to domesticate plants and animals.

You will usually start with the Agricultural Revolution and study how the transition from hunting to farming changed human society at a fundamental level. You will also examine the global breadbaskets of the world, the central agricultural regions of the world today, and the different ways in which they utilize the land. An example would be looking at different farming techniques employed in China versus the United States or the reliance of developing nations on specific crops. Finally, you will cover the various models created to examine patterns associated with the agricultural use of land and its impact on economics and culture. The following are the important issues discussed according to CollegeBoard.

  1. Development and diffusion of agriculture
  2. Major agricultural production of regions
  3. Rural land use and settlement patterns
  4. Issues in contemporary commercial agriculture

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Topic 6: Industrialization and Economic Development

Approximate percentage of the exam: 13-17%

You will focus on different economic models, like Rostow’s stages of economic growth, which explain the economic nature of the world. You will also learn about the effects geography plays on industrialization and economic development and vice versa. A major focus of the study is the rise of globalization its effects on the economy of every nation, and how widespread its reach is. Whether it is a multinational company based out of the United States or a small farmer in Honduras, globalization has created the world where each nation has begun to focus its manufacturing on a single good.

This section also takes a look at how economic development is measured and its effects on the new international division of labor. Then when faced with economic development and growth, this section then examines the rise of inequality in communities ranging from the local level to the national and even international stage. Finally, when talking about economic development, you also need to look at its environmental impact. Changes in society, like industrialization and globalization, have significant, tangible changes on the environment. Here are the ideas you will be studying according to CollegeBoard

  1. Growth and diffusion of industrialization
  2. Social and economic measures of development
  3. Contemporary patterns and impacts of industrialization and development

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Topic 7: Cities and Urban Land Use

Approximate percentage of the exam: 13 – 17%

The last topic you will see is the concept of cities and urban land use. When we talk about cities, this can cover several aspects, such as the location, their political and social functions, how cities communicate, and the idea of settlement geography. Cities are massive population centers that are becoming the defining features of an area, or even a country. Take for example New York City. While it is not the only city in the state of New York, for many people it is the first thing that comes to mind in the state.

Next, there is the structure of a city and the different factors of land use, segregation, transportation, and architectural traditions. All of these structures are facets of a city that can affect its growth in either a beneficial or a detrimental way. You will be using both quantitative and qualitative data to draw conclusions about a city’s formation and development. An example of this would be observing the growth of a city’s population density and its correlation to potential health hazards in an area.

Once you have completed a history of urban growth, you will begin to look at the cutting-edge of urban land use, like edge cities, smart growth, and neighborhood gentrification. According to CollegeBoard, the following is the content you want to focus on.

  1. Development and characters of cities
  2. Models of urban hierarchies: reasons for the distribution and size of cities
  3. Models of internal city structure and urban development: strengths and limitations of models
  4. Built environment and social space
  5. Contemporary urban issues

Use these resources below to enhance your studies!

Step 2: Understand the Exam Format

Another important thing to keep in mind is getting familiar with the structure of the AP Human Geography exam. In case you do not know the AP Human Geography format, this study guide breaks it down. The AP Human Geography exam is broken down into two major parts. The first part is the multiple-choice section. The multiple-choice section has 75 questions that will draw from the seven sections we have discussed earlier in the article. The second part of the AP Human Geography exam is the free-response section, which is further divided into three parts. In total, you will have 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish taking the AP Human Geography exam. For the multiple choice section, you will have a total of one hour, and for the free-response section, you will have 75 minutes. In regard to how much each section contributes to your final score, both the multiple choice and free-response section are worth 50%.

In the first section, the CollegeBoard says you will, “define, explain, and apply geographic concepts” and “interpret geographic data.” This means you may have to identify and define concepts from your AP Human Geography study guide to interpreting maps, charts, and diagrams you were exposed to in class and during your reading. The second section requires a little more effort. The CollegeBoard says that the student will be asked to do the following:

  • Synthesize different topical areas
  • Analyze and evaluate geographical concepts
  • Supply appropriately selected and well-explained real-world examples to illustrate geographic concepts
  • Interpret verbal descriptions, maps, graphs, photographs, and/or diagrams
  • Formulate responses in narrative form

Everything we have listed above, you will have learned throughout your study during the course, but it does give you a better idea of where your weaknesses might be if you have not already identified them. If this all seems intimidating, do not worry. Next, we are going to discuss the best AP Human Geography tips for you to prepare for and take the exam.

AP Human Geography Tips for Study: Vocabulary is Key

As you may have already seen from the topics listed in this AP Human Geography study plan, you will be studying a broad spectrum of human knowledge. We believe it is fair to say that you will be using skills from all of your courses to prepare properly for this exam. Everything from reading long passages of texts to analyzing vast bodies of data and diagrams, these are all features of the AP Human Geography exam that you need to be prepared for. However, we believe that one of the biggest issues you are going to encounter is the great volume of vocabulary that spans such dissimilar topics. While they are all related, they have their own set of vocabulary that play a big role in understanding distinct material. Because of all the vocabulary, we think it is in your interest to create some sort of mnemonic training plan. This does not necessarily mean creating flashcards for every word you encounter that you do not recognize. Only you know how you study and what words are your weakest areas. While you may not like flashcards, there are definitely ways to practice vocabulary that matches your learning style.

AP Human Geography Tips for the Exam: Multiple Choice

We have given you the number of questions in each section and the amount of time you are going to have for each phase of the test. With a simple bit of math, it is easy enough to find out that for each question in the multiple-choice section, you have about 48 seconds to find the correct answer. While this does not seem like enough time to find the right answer, it is actually more than you will need. If you have studied and prepared properly, then you will likely spend less than 30 seconds on each question.

When you encounter a question that needs a little more time than 48 seconds, you have one chief thing to keep in mind: you do not lose any points for guessing! This is so important because, if you find a question that stumps you, you are more than likely at least able to narrow it down. This increases your chances of guessing the correct answer! So, when this happens, make sure to eliminate at least two of answer choices. A question where you have a 50-50 chance of guessing the correct answer is a better option than leaving it completely blank.

AP Human Geography Tips for the Exam: Free Response

If essay writing is not your strong suit, don’t feel nervous. In this section, we discuss efficient time management for your essays, proper question answering methods, and developing a strong argument.

As we said earlier, you will have three questions in the free response section. Make sure you read each question closely because this part of the AP Human Geography exam typically is at the end. You are probably already a little tired from the multiple-choice section after sitting for an hour, so make sure you completely understand what the free-response questions are asking you. Once you have finished that, look at the length of each question and determine how much time each one is going to need. Some questions may be divided into parts A, B, C, etc. Make sure that you answer each part of the question so you do not miss any points. Keep track of the time! 75 minutes may seem like a lot of time but you will be surprised at how quickly the time passes when you are in the middle of writing an essay.

For each of the three questions in the free response section, you will be expected to demonstrate a particular understanding of a topic as well as an ability to build a thoughtful response. You can tell what a question is asking by looking for keywords like compare and contrast or explain. By looking for these words, you will have a better idea of what you need to do to answer each question properly. A question that asks you to discuss wants you to provide an answer, and then, using either information they have provided or material you have learned in the course, defend your answer. A question that asks you to identify or define means it is asking you to simply provide the definition of a concept or idea and maybe provide an example or two. You want to be as concise as possible, but not so concise that you fail to answer the question at all.

Step 3: Test Yourself!

Once you have reached the end of the course, or even before, the one thing you want to keep constant is a habit of review. Review will make sure that you are keeping track of not only your strong points, but it will help you discern areas that you need to focus on. It’s also a useful skill to have for just about any aspect of school or even life. First, you will want to allot enough time before the actual exam for review, typically a month is adequate but if you have been keeping up with your reviewing schedule then you may only need two weeks.

You will want to begin by gathering all of your AP Human Geography study materials together. Flashcards, old tests, articles, practice diagrams and data. After that, look at everything you want to make sure that everything looks familiar. If it does not, then spend a little bit of time with that particular piece of information and are reacquainted. After you have completed your initial survey of the course material, start testing yourself. There are plenty of places to find practice tests for the AP Human Geography exam. The CollegeBoard even offers access to old free-response questions to give you a better representation of the exam.

Begin by taking a practice test without timing yourself. Answer the questions as best you can, taking much time you need. Once you have completed the practice test, go back and identify your problem areas. We guarantee that you most likely are not going to get a perfect score the first time so go back and find out which questions you missed. Figure out why exactly you answered incorrectly, whether it was tricky wording, or simply not knowing the information the question was asking these are all issues that can be solved.

Rinse and repeat this process. Then keep a running tally of the questions you miss with each practice exam you take. You will find that as time passes you are missing less and less. Eventually you may even take a practice exam and get a perfect score.

AP Human Geography Practice Test Resources:


Now that you have read this whole article, you probably have a better idea of how to prepare for the AP Human Geography exam. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it when you receive your 5 in the mail. We have organized the seven main topics, given you plenty of resources to look at, and kick start your studying methods. The rest is up to you. Good luck!

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