AP Human Geography: The Complete Guide

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AP Human Geography is one of 38 Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Like all AP courses, it’s designed to introduce high school students to college-level coursework. It’s commonly taught in seven units of study, and the information you learn in these units is tested in a comprehensive AP exam at the end of the year.

Doing well on the exam looks great on college applications, and it can earn you college credit. (Just three college credits can save you more than $4,000 on tuition, depending on where you go to school.) Your experience in AP courses like AP Human Geography prepares you for the rigor of college classes. Plus, AP Human Geography has a fun nickname: AP HUG.

Fun nicknames aside, you probably want to learn more about AP Human Geography before deciding whether you should take the course. In that case, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the class, the exam, and the difficulty level of AP HUG.

Overview of AP Human Geography

You can think of human geography as a combination of social studies and a more traditional geography class. You’ll explore patterns of human population, migration, and land use. You’ll learn how humans have understood, used, and changed Earth’s surface throughout history.

To do well in AP Human Geography, you’ll need to understand and analyze visual sources like maps, graphs, charts, tables, infographics, and images. You will need to be able to use geographic scales to understand spatial relationships, and you’ll connect the processes and concepts of geography to real-life scenarios. If you don’t have all these skills yet, don’t worry. They’re taught in the course!

AP Human Geography Units

AP Human Geography is typically organized into seven units of study. Usually, these units are taught in the following order:

  • Thinking Geographically
  • Population and Migration Patterns and Processes
  • Cultural Patterns and Processes
  • Political Patterns and Processes
  • Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes
  • Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes
  • Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes

Now, let’s take a brief look at the information covered during each unit. The numbers in parentheses below represent what percentage of the multiple-choice questions on the test each unit makes up.

Thinking Geographically (8-10%)

This unit covers the tools and methods geographers use to study places. This includes their use of maps, data, and analysis of complex issues and relationships to reveal spatial patterns.

Population and Migration Patterns and Processes (12-17%)

This unit is all about the patterns associated with human populations. You’ll learn about global cultural, political, and economic patterns based on an understanding of where and how people. You’ll also examine what causes changes in population and the short and long-term effects of these changes on a place’s economy, politics, and culture.

Cultural Patterns and Processes (12-17%)

In the third unit of AP Human Geography, you’ll learn how and why religion, language, and other cultural practices spread across places and time. You’ll examine factors that influence cultures, like physical geography, available resources, and the interaction of people.

Political Patterns and Processes (12-17%)

The fourth unit focuses on the political organization of the world. It examines how historical processes, events, and ideas impact politics. You’ll also study how political boundaries and divisions of governance reflect negotiated or imposed balances of power.

Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes (12-17%)

In this unit, you’ll learn where people first developed agriculture and how these agricultural practices spread around the world. You will learn about how and why agriculture has changed over time, including cultural diffusion and advances in technology. You will also examine why agricultural productions and consumption patterns are different in different places.

Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes (12-17%)

This unit focuses on urbanization, including its origin and influences. You will learn about different cities around the world and the role of these cities in globalization. You’ll also explore the unique political, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges of urban areas.

Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes (12-17%)

Finally, you will learn about industrialization and its role in economic development. You’ll also learn about why social and economic development happens at different rates and at different times in various places. You will examine economic problems resulting from industrialization and how these problems can be remedied.

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AP Human Geography Skills

AP Human Geography teaches skills that help students learn to think like geographers. The five main skills taught in AP HUG are:

  • Concepts and Processes
  • Spatial Relationships
  • Data Analysis
  • Source Analysis
  • Scale Analysis

Let’s look at what each of these skills means and how each skill is weighted on the AP exam.

Concepts and Processes

Analyze concepts, theories, approaches, processes, or models of geography in theoretical and applied contexts. This skill is weighted 25%-36% on the multiple-choice section of the test and 23%-29% on the free-response section.

Spatial Relationships

Analyze geographic relationships, patterns, and outcomes in applied contexts. This skill is weighted 16%-25% on the multiple-choice section and 33%-43% on the free-response section.

Data Analysis

Analyze quantitative data represented in tables, graphs, maps, charts, infographics, and satellite images and interpret this data accordingly. This skill is weighted 13%-20% on the multiple-choice section and 10%-19% on the free-response section.

Source Analysis

Analyze qualitative geographic information represented in maps, cartoons, satellite images, photographs, and landscapes and interpret this data accordingly. This skill is weighted 13%-20% on the multiple-choice section and 10%-19% on the free-response section.

Scale Analysis

Explain spatial relationships through analysis of geographic approaches, theories, concepts, processes, and models across geographic scales. This skill is weighted 13%-20% on the multiple-choice section and 10%-14% on the free-response section.

When Do Students Take AP Human Geography?

The AP Human Geography exam is considered a good introduction to AP exams. For this reason, many students take the course during their freshman or sophomore year of high school.

Some schools will allow you to take AP HUG your freshman year, but others require students to take at least one other AP history course first.

Of course, it’s up to you when (and if) you want to take AP Human Geography. If you’re planning to take a lot of AP courses during high school, it makes sense to take AP HUG early. If you’re only going to take a few AP courses, you can wait until your junior or senior year. Waiting to take the course gives you more time to adjust to rigorous classes and develop your study skills.

You can also talk to teachers or your guidance counselor to help you determine the best time to take AP Human Geography. It all depends on your academic goals and your comfort level with challenging courses and exams.

Is AP Human Geography Hard?

In comparison to standard high school classes, all AP courses are “hard.” But the difficulty level depends on your own strengths, weaknesses, and willingness to commit time and energy to the course.

You can browse message boards like College Confidential and Reddit to get an overview of what other students think about the difficulty of AP Human Geography. In general, most students say that it is less difficult than many other AP courses. That’s why for many students, it’s the first AP course and AP exam they take. Students say that if you take the time to thoroughly study and prepare, the exam isn’t as difficult as many other AP exams.

However, it does require a lot of memorization and the ability to think critically and analytically. If these are strengths for you, you’ll likely do well in AP HUG. If these are areas of weakness, other AP courses may be a better fit for you instead.

To find out more about what AP Human Geography is like at your school, it’s a good idea to talk to several students who have taken the course. This way, you can get a variety of opinions. Ask about the course workload, the exam, the teacher, and whether it was difficult. Would other students recommend the course?

Another option is to talk to the AP HUG teacher for more information, or your guidance counselor. If you’re currently in a history class, ask your teacher whether they think AP Human Geography is a good fit for you. Do they think you’ll be able to do well in the course and on the exam?

By gathering a range of opinions on the course, you can make an informed decision about whether AP HUG is right for you.

AP Human Geography Exam

The AP Human Geography exam tests the content and skills covered in the course. It is typically held in May, and it is 2 hours and 15 minutes long. It consists of a multiple-choice section (1 hour) and a free-response section (1 hour and 15 minutes). Each section is worth 50% of your score.

The multiple-choice section has 60 questions. It includes both individual questions and sets of questions. You’ll analyze geographic concepts and data, spatial relationships, and geographic information represented visually.

In the free-response section, you’ll respond to three questions in writing. Each question represents a real-world geographic scenario or situation. At least two of the questions will ask you to explain and analyze spatial relationships across geographic scales.

The first question consists of text only. The second will ask you to analyze and/or interpret data, a map, or an image. The third will feature two stimuli that will include data, maps, and/or images.

After the exam, your multiple-choice responses will be scored by a computer. Your free-response questions will be scored by experienced AP teachers and college professors. The scores for each section are combined to form a composite score, which is converted to a 5-point scale.

A 5 is the highest possible score, and a 1 is the lowest possible score. A score of 3 is required to pass. While some colleges give credit for scores of 3 or higher, others require a 4 or 5. When the scores are ready, you will receive a copy, and so will the colleges you designated as score recipients on the day of the exam.

AP Human Geography Exam Pass Rates

The AP Human Geography exam has a 52% pass rate. This is on the lower end of AP pass rates. Only nine AP exams have lower pass rates, including Calculus AB, Chemistry, Physics 1, and English Literature and Composition.

Here’s a full score breakdown for the exam:

  • 5: 14.4%
  • 4: 19.7%
  • 3: 18.3%
  • 2: 15.1%
  • 1: 32.4%

At first glance, these numbers would lead you to conclude that the AP Human Geography exam is one of the toughest. But it’s important to remember that for many students, AP HUG is the first AP test they ever take. These students may underestimate the difficulty of an AP exam or be unsure how to study for one. AP Human Geography is also a popular test, which can skew pass rates.

Ultimately, pass rates often tell us more about the students who take the course than about the difficulty level of the exam itself. This is why it’s useful to talk to students and teachers at your school and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses based on AP HUG skills.

If the course plays to your strengths and you’re willing to put in the hard work and thorough preparation required, you can perform well on the exam. Even if AP Human Geography is the first AP course you take, don’t fall into the trap of underestimating the exam or showing up for the test unprepared. Look at past exam questions to give you an idea of what to expect, take good notes in the course and review them weekly, and give yourself plenty of time to review in the weeks and months before the big test.

Final Thoughts: AP Human Geography

AP Human Geography is often considered a good introductory AP course. It examines how patterns of human migration, population, and land use develop over time—and how these patterns have impacted the planet. The course requires you to use geographic scales, understand and analyze visual sources, and think critically and analytically about geographical concepts and processes.

Although most students say that AP HUG isn’t as difficult as many other AP classes, the exam has a fairly low pass rate. This is likely because most students take AP Human Geography as freshmen or sophomores. Whenever you take the class, it’s important to work hard throughout the course and study thoroughly for the exam. If you fall behind or feel confused, talk to your teacher or ask students who are excelling in the course to study with you.

When you take the AP Human Geography exam, you’ll have to answer 60 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions in 2 hours and 15 minutes. The test will cover the content and skills described here, and your teacher will help you prepare throughout the school year.

Like all AP courses, AP Human Geography isn’t exactly easy. But if you talked to other students at your school, weighed your strengths and weaknesses, and decided you’re up to the challenge, all that’s left to do is put in the work. With the right amount of hard work and preparation, you can ace AP HUG!

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