AP Human Geography Tips and Test Taking Strategies

By April 20, 2019 May 4th, 2019 High School Study Tips
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You may have heard that the AP Human Geography exam is said to be one of the least challenging AP exams there is.  However, getting a 5 still requires effort, energy, time and the right course of action.   If you are planning on taking the AP Human Geography exam you may want to know more about the test; it’s structure and the right strategies to earn your 5.

The AP Human Geography course teaches students about geography, agriculture, and patterns within cultures.  You will be zeroing in on the trends and processes which have shaped human understanding and overall metamorphosis of Earth.  The AP Human Geography exam uses multiple choice and free response questions to gauge the knowledge retained by the student throughout the AP Human Geography course in a 2 part, two hour and 15-minute exam.  In 2018 only 13% of test takers could make a 5 on the AP Human Geography exam.  We are going to give you a list of full proof AP Human Geography tips and strategies that students like you are using to do just that.  If you are looking to obtain the highest score possible on your AP Human Geography exam, this is the post for you.  This list of AP Human Geography tips is designed to help you conquer your exam.  Let’s get started.

If you’re still looking for extra help, check out our comprehensive guide on the best AP Human Geography review books here.

AP Human Geography General Study TipsGeneral How to Study for AP Human Geography Tips

  1. Read for understanding. Your classroom work is the foundation for your AP Human Geography knowledge.  Make sure that you are not skimming through chapters but instead consistently reading each chapter for understanding.  Annotating and taking notes on essential information will also aid in future retention.
  2. Be aware of how you will be scored. The AP Human Geography exam is made up of 2 sections. The AP Human Geography exam includes multiple choice and free response: You are allotted 1 hour for 75 multiple choice questions and 1 hour and 15 minutes for the three short response questions.  Each section is worth 50% of your overall score.  Machines score the multiple-choice part of the test whereas readers grade the free response questions.  These readers will compare your answer with a detailed rubric which has the point breakdown for each section. Although readers are looking to give as much credit as possible for right answers, it is also important to remember that once your answer begins to be evaluated and points are provided, they cannot be taken away.
  3. Get feedback from other AP Human Geography students and teachers. You are not the first person taking this exam, and I can guarantee that you won’t be the last.  Talk to other students or even watch YouTube videos about other people’s exam experience. For example, one student suggests taking notes in a way that you can understand; this may be flash cards.  Rewriting the chapter will not aid you in passing the AP Human Geography exam.  Create notes that include terminology and formatting that you can understand.  Check out more tips here.
  4. Don’t rely solely on class notes. Your class notes are a helpful resource for studying for the AP Human Geography exam; however, they do not contain everything you need to know. It is impossible for your AP Human Geography teacher to provide all the required information which is why it is imperative to use your resources.  You need to go beyond the class work and dedicate time outside of school to reading, knowing and understanding the material.
  5. Invest in an AP Human Geography review book. Although buying a prep book may seem like a cliché suggestion, it will only help you in the long run. AP Human Geography review books are a fantastic way not only to summarize what you need to know for the AP Human Geography exam, but they also provide information that may not have been learned in the classroom. Review books also come with pre-made study guides, practice tests, and strategies to help you achieve the 5 that you desire.  Many prior students attribute the Barron or Princeton Review books to their success on the AP human geography exam.     
  6. Start studying early and scheduling time for your studies. Cramming the night before your exam is never a way to guarantee a good score.  Start early.  This course is generally a freshman’s first introduction to AP courses.  Use that to your advantage by using your free time to read over notes, create AP Human Geography exam reviews and take practice tests.  Outside of studying or doing course-related work spend extra time doing small activities that will have a significant impact.  Allocate 20 or so minutes a day to reviewing concepts or going back over vocabulary.  You will thank yourself later.
  7. Utilize the resources available to you. We live in an era where the possibility of finding things is limitless. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  No one resource will allow you to know everything possible for the exam.  School websites, the college board site, and even AP Human Geography podcasts can be great avenues when looking for review materials and AP Human Geography study  Mobile device applications and AP Human Geography teacher websites can be an excellent source for finding study materials.
  8. Use your social media accounts to your advantage. Find favorite AP Human Geography course YouTubers on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube and follow them.  Motivation comes in all shapes and forms.  Not only will you be able to get c test tips and material.  This is also an opportunity to network with other students taking or who have taken the exam and pick their brains.   Popular pages for AP Human Geography include Andre Patterson Geography channel where he goes in-depth on concepts to know in each chapter as well as providing tips for test taking.
  9. Create a plan of action for studying. Before jumping head first into the realm of AP Human Geography exam prep create first a plan of action for how you will study.   Some people opt to begin and end their overall AP Human Geography Exam preparation with a practice test.  Doing this allows them to gauge where they were and determine how far they came since the first exam.  Others choose a more classroom structured approach, choosing to review the materials then take a formal practice exam halfway through to gauge how they are coming along.  Whichever method you choose is, however, up to you.
  10. Jot down areas where you need improvement. Whenever you complete a practice AP Human Geography exam make sure that you go over your answers and understand the explanations. Pay attention to why something was wrong and from there create a list of areas where you need to improve or do further study.  Generate a study guide from these areas to ensure you are covering the necessary topics and categories.
  11. Review your ‘General Geography’ unit. The general geography section of the AP Human Geography review is important but often overlooked.  This section includes topics like latitude, formal regions, and longitude. Although it only makes up a small section of the test, it’s essential to ensure that your map reading and map identifying skills are up to par to ensure success.
  12. Create flashcards to help you remember vocabulary. The AP Human Geography exam is highly vocabulary based.  Create flashcards and have a classmate or friend test you on them. Include examples on your flashcards to be even more prepared.
  13. Make your notes unique to you. Taking notes using a voice you are familiar with will mostly aid you in engraving things in your brain, anyone can regurgitate facts from a book.  The more that you write and see the information, the more second nature it becomes.
  14. Use your mobile device to study. Using your mobile device can be just as easy as studying from a book and with the added benefit of going everywhere with you.  There are several mobile application options, but the top option is iScore5 AP Hug ($4.99) and Acing AP Human Geography ($.99).  Other mobile applications include the following:
    • Apple Device: Apps4Success – $1.99, AP Human Geography (Upward Mobility) – $5.00
    • Android Device:  AP Human Geography Terms – $1.29, AP Human Geography (Upward Mobility) – $3.99
  1. Make your review materials. Though it may be easier to buy pre-made material, making your study materials will aid you more in the long run.  Spending the time to create your materials not only assists you while studying, but it also helps you to recognize concepts and vocabulary from the repetition of writing them. 
  2. Begin familiarizing yourself with the overarching topics which will be on the AP Human Geography exam. On the AP Human Geography exam there are seven significant topics covered in the material.  These seven topics will be the basis for the material covered in the exam.  There will be a different frequency for each section.  The list below shows the topic and its associated percentage of incidence on the exam.
Geography: Its Nature and Perspectives (5–10%)
Population and Migration (13–17%)
Cultural Patterns and Processes (13–17%)
Political Organization of Space (13–17%)
Agriculture, Food Production, and Rural Land Use (13–17%)
Industrialization and Economic Development (13–17%)
Cities and Urban Land Use (13–17%)
  1. Revisit concepts you have struggled with in the past. Throughout your AP Human Geography Course, make a note of the areas that you have trouble with or feel as if you require further review. When beginning to study for the exam make an effort to continually review these concepts or topics so that they will not be a roadblock when taking the exam. Seek guidance from teachers or even classmates if you are still stuck on these topics.
  2. Teach concepts to others. Teaching concepts to individuals who know nothing about AP Human Geography or the AP Human Geography exam can be a great way to sharpen your skills. Teaching forces you to process information in layman’s terms and understand even some of the most challenging information.
  3. Know your regions. Regions are a significant part of AP Human Geography.  Not only will you have the possibility of receiving multiple choice questions based on maps and charts with information specific to various regions, but they may also appear in the FRQs.  It is pertinent for you to be able to locate a region and relate it to the seven overarching areas of AP Human Geography.

AP Human Geography Multiple Choice TipsAP Human Geography Multiple Choice Tips

  1. Dissect the question and let the process of elimination guide you to your answer. Before making an abrupt decision, read the questions and the answers thoroughly. Use your knowledge of vocabulary and concepts to eliminate the answers which seem incorrect and arrive at the best fit.  Look for keywords in the questions which will aid you in know what to put down as your answer.  Words like all, except or negation words will help you in determining what the question is asking.  Also, pay attention to the use of time and specific places within the questions.  This will be a giveaway in specific responses for choosing an answer.
  2. Whatever you do, do not skip questions. There is no penalty for answering a question incorrectly.  If you are unsure and cannot arrive at an answer by process of elimination, make an educated guess.   Skipping a question could only hurt you in the long run.
  3. Review and memorize models. Models and graphs are a large part of the AP Human Geography exam.  To adequately review make sure you are aware of how to define and identity models based on specific characteristics and charts.  Use this list to go over all models covered in AP Human Geography, although it may be excessive it is imperative when preparing for the AP Human Geography exam.
  4. Keep your map and chart skills sharp. A subset of the questions in the multiple-choice area of the test are based on or will require the reading of a map or chart.  Make sure that you are aware of the models, their associated graphics and how to interpret them. When tackling these questions, you will need to not only dissect the question but in certain instances dissect the graphic as well.
  5. Study with friends. Studying with friends not only makes studying more enjoyable, but it also opens a variety of activities that can be done. These activities can include quizzing each other, taking tests together and even competitive reviews. It also gives you a chance to look at someone else’s notes to compare and even find the information you may have missed when doing your independent review.
  6. Manage your time effectively. When taking the exam to be mindful of the time you are spending on each question.  There are 75 questions and 60 minutes for the entire section.  If you notice that you are spending too much time on one question skip it and leave it until the end or merely make an educated guess.  Remember, do not leave any questions blank.
  7. Mimic test conditions. To become familiar with taking the AP Huma Geography Exam, make yourself familiar with the conditions that will be in place for the exam and practice them as much as possible.  Learning how to test is just as important as learning what you’ll be expecting on the test.
  8. Use quizlet.com as much as possible. Quizlet allows students not only to create reviews for themselves but to use review materials produced by other students as well.  Here you can use general flashcards, play matching games with terms, test yourself and even write in the definitions of words and concepts.
  9. When reading the test questions don’t immediately look at the answer choices. Before looking at the various answer, choices try to come up with the solution on your own.  Find the answer choice which is closet to your suggested answer and start eliminating options from there.  This can help you to eliminate answers quicker and save time per question.                                             

AP Human Geography FRQ TipsAP Human Geography FRQ Tips

  1. Understand the parts of a quality AP Human Geography answer. Before even beginning to practice writing free response questions, make sure you understand what a well-written answer looks like, the parts it possesses and overall how it is rated. The College Board provides many AP Human Geography FRQs and scoring guidelines for your review.  Their list of sample questions dates to 2001 allowing you the opportunity to see patterns in the questions asked and potential scoring for your response.
  2. Answer your questions in the format which it was asked. Aside from the AP Human Geography FRQs testing your analytical abilities, your organizational skills are assessed as well.  Answer your question in the same matter in which it was asked.  If your item contains three parts labeled A, B and C, your answer should be structured the same. When responding to the question with a new thought or topic, a separate paragraph should be used.
  3. No fluff allowed. Do not add any fluff or filler text.  The length of your response has no direct correlation to the score you will receive. You should also not be providing opinions or using the word “I.”  Everything should be based on facts.
  4. Do not begin writing until you understand the prompt. Before even beginning to write your FRQ response, pull out any action verbs which will aid you in determining what exactly the question is asking.  These include words like define, explain or analyze.  These words give clues for the type of response you will need to provide.
  5. Give yourself time to prepare. Before jumping into writing your FRQ response, give yourself a set amount of time to prepare for each question. You are allotted roughly 25 minutes per free response question.  Give yourself 3-5 minutes of this time to prepare your response and do any necessary outlining.
  6. Practice Free Response Questions while timing yourself. It’s important to remember that you only have 75 minutes to finish the free response portion of the test. Although that may seem like a long time, that time will pass quickly.  Practice your free response questions frequently.  Utilize timers to keep you in check as well as answering a variety of different types of questions. The more you practice, the better you will get.  After all, this is 50% of your overall score.
  7. Have someone grade at least one of your AP Human Geography FRQ Responses. When taking at least one practice exam, have someone else look over your answers and review them, preferably a teacher who can give you concrete feedback on what you should change and how.  Doing this will help you make sure that you are practicing your AP Human Geography FRQs in the wrong way.
  8. Provide relevant examples. A large part of the free response questions will be defining and understanding vocabulary and keywords. Provide appropriate and specific examples when writing your responses.  Use models, terms, and theories to support your answers.  For instance, we know that a “custom” is a characteristic of a group of people; however, an example would be shaking hands when meeting someone new.
  9. Review Past AP Human Geography FRQs. The AP Human Geography questions are meant to assess how you interpret maps and charts, how you analyze different geographical concepts and synthesize different areas.  Consistent practice is one of the best ways to get good at answering AP Human Geography’s free response questions.  Answer questions which have provided detailed information on answers to see how your response will measure up to the prior subject’s grade or score.  There is no shortage of exam prep questions, and they can be found all over the internet, you can even create your own if you seek to challenge yourself further.
  10. Use the SNAP! method for understanding the AP Human Geography questions.
    • The SNAP! method will allow you to quickly and easily dissect and answer the question.
    • Snap – The first piece is locating the main subject and any specific information that you can about it.  You may also draw information from your memory if it is relevant to what is being asked.
    • Number of Parts – Find out how many sections and answers are needed within each section.  You should have the same amount of parts in the question as in your response.
    • Action Words – Look for action words which describe what you are being asked to do. This includes words like explain, define, identify or even choose.  This is just a small set of the action verbs which can be found in your questions.
    • Period & Location – Make sure that you are aware of periods or locations which are needed for your answer or that are present within the question.
    • ! – The last step is to look for vocabulary words. Circle any words that look familiar to you or that you have seen before.  If you are unsure, attempt to define the terms during your brainstorming time.
  1. Do not answer FRQ questions as bulleted lists or fact lists. Bulleted lists are not accepted on the AP Human Geography exam. Answers written in this format or just in a list of facts will not be accepted. Your answers must be written in complete sentences in narrative format.
  2. Do not go overboard with information. Adding excess information when answering your FRQs is not necessary. You should only be providing what is needed to answer the question entirely.  For example, if your question asks for three examples, you should only provide three examples.  If any more are provided only the first three will be scored even if the first one is incorrect and the last example is correct.
  3. Understand the “Why.” Many FRQs want to know the why behind a concept.  Make sure you understand why many events take place and are prepared to give examples of how concepts have manifested themselves in the real world.
  4. Add relevant details to all of your responses. One of the most important things to do why answering the AP Human Geography questions is to be specific and use as much detail as possible.  You should be including examples, samples, and verbiage that lets the grader know that you know the material.
  5. Remember that short answers not essay. Although your free response answers should be in narrative format, you should not be writing your AP Human Geography FRQ answers in 5 paragraph essay format.  Instead, you should be writing a series of paragraphs which are cohesive. You do not need to be concerned with providing the traditional parts of an essay.
  6. Start with the AP Human Geography FRQ you can answer with the most confidence. Before beginning, any work on the FRQ questions read each question carefully to determine the order in which you should answer the questions.  Start with the item you are most familiar with and answer the other questions accordingly.  This allows you to get credit for the information you know while also giving yourself extra time to explain the others.
  7. Your response should be clear and legible. There is nothing worse than getting a question wrong because the reader could not distinguish the words in your answer.  If needed, practice writing neatly and quickly in order to avoid any confusion. Do not use harsh scratch outs or scribbles.  When you make a mistake simply put a line through the error only.  Any wording that looks like it is crossed out will not be scored.
  8. Proofread your answer. If your answer doesn’t make sense to you, there is a good chance it also won’t make sense to anyone else. Do as much proofreading as time will allow.  If you have planned accordingly, there won’t be many changes to your response at the end.

Tips from AP Human Geography TeachersTips from AP Human Geography Teachers

  1. Review questions which are commonly missed. When taking an AP Human Geography practice exam, review questions which are most commonly missed by you and your classmates. From these questions determine the topic it falls under and makes that section or concept a priority when reviewing for the exam.
  2. AP Human Geography guide books are essential to passing the AP Human Geography exam. Mr. Larkey from Minnesota. I recommend but do not require an AP test prep book for AP Human Geography. These are essential for passing the AP Human Geography exam in May.  It does not have to be the current edition, but I would recommend either the Kaplan or Barron’s book. I do have some copies I can check out to students.
  3. Varley’s review site is one of the best. If you are unfamiliar, Mr. Varley from Lincoln high school provides students in his school and others around the country with a multitude of test material, AP Human Geography notes and more on his AP Human Geography site. His Motherload packet is one of the most talked about items on his website.
  4. Stay up to date on current events. AP Human Geography is actively happening around you every day.  Look for examples of terms in your neighborhood to see concepts actively at work.  Gentrification or assimilation are just two examples of words you may be able to see in your everyday life and apply when taking the exam.  

Through this list and variety of other sources, you have gathered a seemingly endless supply of 50 AP Human Geography notes and tips on how to gain a 5 on your AP Human Geography exam.  However, the most important thing for you to remember is to breath and be confident in your abilities.  Although the AP Human Geography exam may not be the hardest exam, you’ll take, if you can understand geographical concepts, interpret geographic models and explain keywords and vocabulary terms in depth, you are well on the way to achieving a 5.  In addition to being well versed in the information on the exam you must also continue to practice timing.  Once you have successfully married the those two items a 4 or a 5 is within your grasp.

If you found this helpful, check out our guide on the best AP Human Geography review books as well here.


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