AP Human Geography: A Complete Guide

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AP Human Geography is all about how humankind has understood, used, and changed the surface of our planet. It’s a challenging and engaging class that’s a great option for students who are choosing their first AP course(s). 

Advanced Placement classes are vitally important to your high school career. With over three dozen to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which classes to take and how to order them. In this series of articles, we’ll cover a broad selection of AP courses to help you make an informed decision on which ones are right for you. 

Today’s focus is on AP Human Geography. We’ll cover everything that you need to know to decide whether this advanced placement course merits a place in your lineup. 

What grade is it typically taken in?

There are no required prerequisites for AP Human Geography, and many students take this course as their first AP class in their sophomore or even freshman year of high school. The course content is easier than in many other AP courses, though the final exam can be quite challenging. 

Taking AP classes and scoring well on the final exams shows prospective universities that you’re capable of handling college-level coursework. You should take as many as you can do well in – they’re meant to boost your GPA, not drag it down through overwhelm. Remember, it’s better to score well on a smaller number of AP exams than to overload yourself with more than you’ll be able to pass. Choose challenging courses in subjects that you have a genuine interest in.

What does the class include?

AP Human Geography examines patterns of human population, land use, and migration. Students get plenty of experience reading maps, infographics, tables, charts, and graphs.

Many of the skills learned in this class will serve you well for the rest of your life. It gives you plenty of experience interpreting data and understanding spatial relationships. The knowledge you’ll acquire provides a strong foundation for understanding both world history and current events. 

Here are the seven units covered in the class and some of the topics included in each one. Each of these units makes up a substantial portion of the AP exam. 

Unit 1: Thinking Geographically

  • Different types of maps and what they tell you
  • Data analysis at different scales
  • How geographers define regions

Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes

  • Theories of population growth and decline
  • Population and immigration policies and their effects
  • The causes and effects of migration

Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes

  • The different ways that cultural practices spread
  • Historical forces, such as colonialism and trade, that affect cultural patterns
  • Modern forces, such as globalization, that affect cultural patterns

Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes

  • Types of political entities such as nations and nation-states
  • Forms of government such as unitary states and federal states
  • The factors that lead to states breaking apart

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

  • How physical geography influences farming practices
  • The origins and spread of agriculture
  • How farming practices affect the environment and society

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

  • The factors that drive the growth of cities and suburbs
  • City infrastructure
  • Urban design initiatives and practices

Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes

  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Economic sectors and patterns
  • Trade and the world economy

You can find a sample syllabus here.

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Who should take AP Human Geography?

AP Human Geography is a good choice for any student interested in the material detailed above, and it’s a particularly good choice for students planning to major in one of the following:

  • Anthropology
  • City, Community, and Regional Planning
  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental Studies
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science and Government
  • Public Administration
  • Social Work
  • Sociology
  • Urban Studies

The foundation laid in AP Human Geography is relevant to a wide range of careers, including architecture, civil engineering, government, and urban planning. 

The AP Human Geography Exam

The AP Human Geography Exam lasts two hours and fifteen minutes. There are two sections, each accounting for half of your final score. The first section has sixty multiple choice questions that will test your understanding of various geographic concepts and evaluate your ability to analyze maps, satellite images, and geospatial data. The second section consists of three free response questions, two of which will include a map or some other image to interpret. 

You can find more detailed information here. There are two sets of free-response questions each year, and you’ll find the most recent sets of questions here: set one and set two.

How hard is the exam? 

AP Human Geography is a challenging exam. Roughly half of all students who take the exam fail to pass. The pass rate – students who score three or higher – hovers somewhere in the fifties. Compare this to the pass rate for all AP classes, which is above seventy percent. Still, this should be tempered by the reminder that many students take AP Human Geography as their first (and sometimes only) AP class, and that skews the results somewhat. 

AP exams are graded on a scale of one to five:

  • 5 – Extremely well qualified
  • 4 – Well qualified
  • 3 – Qualified
  • 2 – Possibly qualified
  • 1 – No recommendation

You may receive college credit if you score three or above on the exam. Some universities require a score of four or higher. Some may not offer college credits at all. Even if this is the case, high scores on AP tests will help show colleges that you’re a serious candidate who can handle college-level coursework. 

The average AP score for AP Human Geography in 2021 was 2.69. The year before that, it was 2.75 with a pass rate of 59%.

Scores in 2022 were a bit higher, and a slim majority passed the AP exam. The 2022 score distributions were as follows: 14.9% of students scored a 5, 18.7% scored 4, 19.6% scored 3, 15.0% scored two, and 31.8% scored one. 

Compare this to AP United States History and you’ll see that under eleven percent of students who took that test scored a five. AP World History and AP European History each saw less than fourteen percent of the students who tested score fives.

Bear in mind that test scores aren’t always a reliable indicator of difficulty. It’s common for freshman and sophomores to choose AP Human Geography as their first AP class, and that skews the results. Many students say that AP Human Geography is one of the easier AP courses available. 

How hard is the exam? 

Preparing for the exam begins on your first day of class and continues through the year. You’ll need to take detailed notes and engage with all of the course materials consistently to become comfortable with the many skills and concepts that this class covers. Review frequently throughout the year to avoid cramming at year’s end or showing up to the exam ill prepared. 

If you’re not sure where to start reviewing, terminology is an excellent foundation. Review your notes and make flashcards for any words you’re not yet comfortable with. You’ll need to be familiar with these terms to understand test questions and answer well, so it’s a great jumping-off point. There’s a premade set of over three hundred virtual flashcards available here

Another productive way to organize your studies is by region. You’ll need to be able to provide specific examples in your free-response answers for the second part of the exam, and studying the regions you’ve covered in class is a great way to prepare. Focus on how the physical environments in each region have shaped their cultures and demographics.

Make sure that you’re comfortable with all of the charts and infographics used in class. You should be able to read a map. Reach out to your classmates or teacher if there’s anything in particular that you’re struggling with. One fun way to cement some concepts covered in class is to buy a map of a nearby area and go hiking, getting a feel for the topography in real time. 

If you want to go the extra mile, try a reputable study guide such as AP Human Geography Prep from The Princeton Review or AP Human Geography Premium from Barron’s. These books include multiple practice tests and a comprehensive review of everything you’ll need to know.

As you approach the exam, it’s wise to take some practice tests. Your teacher might have some, or you can use one of the books linked above. Remember, taking a practice test is only the first step. After that, you’ll need to review your mistakes, study the topics you were unable to answer correctly, and then take a second practice test. Repeat this as many times as needed.

Click here for more advice on studying for AP exams. 

AP Exam Overview

AP exams are given in May over a two-week period. Scores are usually released online in early July. If you don’t pass in May, there will be no opportunity to retake the test until the following year – when you’ll have a fresh batch of exams to worry about. But given that scoring 4 or 5 may allow you to skip an introductory course in college, reviewing the material and testing again can be well worth the effort.

The cost to register for an AP test is $95. For students with “significant financial need” the College Board may reduce that fee to $33.

In the days before the exam, give yourself some time to breathe and get plenty of sleep. AP exams do not penalize test takers for wrong answers. So if you’re unsure, don’t skip the question! Take your best guess and move on, coming back around to review at the end if you have time. 


AP Human Geography focuses on how human civilizations are shaped by the world around us and how we in turn have altered the face of our planet. It’s an engaging class that’s particularly great for students who love maps, anthropology, and history. This college-level course is relevant to a wide range of careers, and it makes a great first Advanced Placement class for students who haven’t yet taken one. 

It’s wise to take at least one AP class freshman year, and Human Geography is a great pick. Psychology and Environmental Science are two other relatively easy AP courses that are well suited to freshmen. And if your first year of high school is already behind you, these courses are great for adding to already challenging later years if you want to take on extra APs. 

Stay tuned for more articles on other Advanced Placement courses. And please reach out if you need help planning your course schedule, understanding advanced concepts, or studying for your exams. Our experienced tutors can help you prepare for the AP Human Geography exam and decide which AP classes to take next year.

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