What is the AP Human Geography Exam?

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The advanced placement exam in Human Geography tests US high schools students on their aptitude in Human Geography. Human geography is a branch of geography that looks at how humans have interacted and change the surface of the Earth.

The AP Human Geography exam looks at patterns of human settlements, changes in populations such as migration, and land use. The exam also has an emphasis on being able to analyze quantitative and qualitative data sources.

A Christmas tree farm in the mountains of western North Carolina.  Photo: Randolph Femmer, USGS. Public domain.
A Christmas tree farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. Photo: Randolph Femmer, USGS. Public domain.

The AP Human Geography exam was first offered in 2001.

What Are the Topics Covered on the AP Human Geography Exam?

This table shows the breakdown of human geography units covered on the exam:

TopicPercent
Thinking Geographically8-10%
Population and Migration Patterns and Processes12-17%
Cultural Patterns and Processes12-17%
Political Patterns and Processes12-17%
Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes12-17%
Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes12-17%
Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes12-17%

Each of the units are broken down into topics. You can also access more detail by reading through the College Board’s AP Human Geography Course and Exam Description PDF.

AP Geography Exam Topics

Unit 1 – Thinking Geographically

Unit 1 is Thinking Geographically which is intended to be taught in 9-10 class periods and has a weight of 8-10%.

1.1 Introduction to Maps
1.2 Geographic Data
1.3 The Power of Geographic Data
1.4 Spatial Concepts
1.5 Human–Environmental Interaction
1.6 Scales of Analysis
1.7 Regional Analysis

Maps showing average concentrations of ozone over the Arctic in March 2019 (a typical year) and March 2020, as calculated by the NASA Ozone Watch team. Source: NASA.
Maps showing average concentrations of ozone over the Arctic in March 2019 (a typical year) and March 2020, as calculated by the NASA Ozone Watch team. Source: NASA.

Unit 2 – Population and Migration Patterns and Processes

The Unit 2 focus is Population and Migration Patterns and Processes which is intended to be taught over 19-20 class periods and has a weighted score of 12-17%.

2.1 Population Distribution
2.3 Population Composition
2.2 Consequences of Population Distribution
2.4 Population Dynamics
2.5 The Demographic Transition Model
2.6 Malthusian Theory
2.7 Population Policies
2.8 Women and Demographic Change
2.9 Aging Populations
2.10 Causes of Migration
2.11 Forced and Voluntary Migration
2.12 Effects of Migration

Net migration between California and other states, 2007 to 2016.  Figure: Legislative Analyst's Office, State of California.
Net migration between California and other states, 2007 to 2016. Figure: Legislative Analyst’s Office, State of California.

Unit 3 – Cultural Patterns and Processes

The Unit 3 focus is Cultural Patterns and Processes which is intended to be taught over 19-20 class periods and has a weighted score of 12-17%.

3.1 Introduction to Culture
3.2 Cultural Landscapes
3.3 Cultural Patterns
3.4 Types of Diffusion
3.5 Historical Causes of Diffusion
3.6 Contemporary Causes of Diffusion
3.7 Diffusion of Religion and Language
3.8 Effects of Diffusion

People in Europe and East Asia say religion is not very important to them

Unit 4 – Political Patterns and Processes

The Unit 4 focus is Political Patterns and Processes which is intended to be taught over 19-20 class periods and has a weighted score of 12-17%.

4.1 Introduction to Political Geography
4.2 Political Processes
4.3 Political Power and Territoriality
4.4 Defining Political Boundaries
4.5 The Function of Political Boundaries
4.6 Internal Boundaries
4.7 Forms of Governance
4.8 Defining Devolutionary Factors
4.9 Challenges to Sovereignty
4.10 Consequences of Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces

Political map of the world 2019.  Source: CIA Factbook, public domain
Political map of the world 2019. Source: CIA Factbook, public domain

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

The Unit 5 focus is Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes which is intended to be taught over 19-20 class periods and has a weighted score of 12-17%.

5.1 Introduction to Agriculture
5.2 Settlement Patterns and Survey Methods
5.3 Agricultural Origins and Diffusions
5.4 The Second Agricultural Revolution
5.5 The Green Revolution
5.6 Agricultural Production Regions
5.7 Spatial Organization of Agriculture
5.8 Von Thünen Model
5.9 The Global System of Agriculture
5.10 Consequences of Agricultural Practices
5.11 Challenges of Contemporary Agriculture
5.12 Women in Agriculture

A tulip farm in The Netherlands. Photo: CIA Factbook, public domain.
A tulip farm in The Netherlands. Photo: CIA Factbook, public domain.

Unit 6 Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes

The Unit 6 focus is Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes which is intended to be taught over 19-20 class periods and has a weighted score of 12-17%.

6.1 The Origin and Influences of Urbanization
6.2 Cities Across the World
6.3 Cities and Globalization
6.4 The Size and Distribution of Cities
6.5 The Internal Structure of Cities
6.6 Density and Land Use
6.7 Infrastructure
6.8 Urban Sustainability
6.9 Urban Data
6.10 Challenges of Urban Changes
6.11 Challenges of Urban Sustainability

A view of a suburban subdivision being developed in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Image: USGS, public domain.
A view of a suburban subdivision being developed in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Image: USGS, public domain.

Unit 7 – Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes

The Unit 7 focus is Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes which is intended to be taught over 19-20 class periods and has a weighted score of 12-17%.

7.1 The Industrial Revolution
7.2 Economic Sectors and Patterns
7.3 Measures of Development
7.4 Women and Economic Development
7.5 Theories of Development
7.6 Trade and the World Economy
7.7 Changes as a Result of the World Economy
7.8 Sustainable Development

Related: Central Place Theory

San Francisco de Quito or Quito for short, is the second most populous city (after Guayaquil) in Ecuador. Quito is also one of the highest capitals in South America. Image: CIA Factbook, public domain.
San Francisco de Quito or Quito for short, is the second most populous city (after Guayaquil) in Ecuador. Quito is also one of the highest capitals in South America. Image: CIA Factbook, public domain.

How Long is the AP Human Geography Exam

The AP Human Geography exam is split up into two sections that are each worth 50% of the total score.

The first section is an hour-long 60-question multiple choice test. This means you get, on average, one minute per question in the test.

There are two different types of multiple choice questions on the AP exam: individual questions and set-based questions. Set-based questions are a series of questions focused around a single topic.

The set-based format for the multiple choice test per the College Board is:

  • Of the 60 questions, there will be 5–8 sets that will each include 2–3 questions with a quantitative or qualitative source.
  • At least 1 of these sets will include a paired set of sources.

Per the College Board, “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.”

The second section is 75 minutes long and features three free-response questions (FPQ) that are graded based on the presence of keywords and illustrative examples. This means you will have 25 minutes to spend on each of the long form questions.

Each of the free-response questions will have the following focus:

  1. Describe, explain, apply geographic situation or scenario (no stimulus)
  2. Describe, explain, apply geographic data using data, image, or map (one quantitative or qualitative source)
  3. Describe, explain, apply geographic data using data, image, and/or map (two sources, qualitative and/or quantitative)

The total exam time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

When is the next AP Human Geography Exam?

The next AP Human Geography Exam is scheduled nationally for May 4, 2021.

Students will need to be able to answer questions about geographic concepts as well as questions about maps, geospatial data, infographics, and other presented data.

How is the AP Human Geography Exam Graded?

Students receive a number score based on their test results that range from the highest grade of 5 (the equivalent of an “A” on a letter grade score) to 1. An exam score of 4 is considered between a letter grade range of B to an A-.

Many universities require at least a 5 or a 4 exam score in order to receive college credit for having taken the AP Human Geography exam. Students should check with the college they will be attending in order to understand that school’s specific requirements for receiving credit for AP exams.

How Hard is the AP Human Geography Exam?

Getting a 5 on the AP Human Geography exam is pretty challenging. In 2020, only 11.6% of test takers achieved a 5 on the exam. 22.1% got a 4, and 24.5% got a 3. All total, 58.2% got a 3 or higher. A total of 206,522 students completed the AP Human Geography exam in 2020.

One analysis found that the AP Human Geography exam is the hardest of the nine exams the History and Social Science category to pass.

Why is the AP Human Geography Exam Hard?

The AP Human Geography exam requires a lot of rote memorization and critical thinking. There are over a thousand vocabulary terms related to human geography that students will need familiarity with.

For the FRQs you will need to have the ability to analyze and critically describe social organization and the environmental consequences of human activities.

How to Study for the AP Human Geography Exam

Along with taking an AP Human Geography course during high school, students will also supplement this with a guided workbook from Barron or Princeton Review (affiliate links). Other prepare by taking a paid prep course.

You can also practice for the multiple choice section of the exam by using resources like this 918 question AP Human Geography flashcard practice set from Quizlet.

The Advanced Placement YouTube channel has a 33-video series reviewing various aspects of the AP Human Geography Exam:

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