What’s Tested on the AP Human Geography Exam?

August 1, 2021

The AP Human Geography exam contains two sections and lasts for two hours and 15 minutes. The first section includes 60 multiple-choice questions; students are given 60 minutes to complete this portion of the exam. In the remaining 75 minutes, students answer three free-response essay questions. 

Beginning in 2019, the AP Human Geography course and exam now contain an explicit emphasis on geographic skills in addition to the traditional content areas. Every question—multiple-choice and free-response—assesses one of the following five skills or skill components.

AP Human Geography Skill Categories

Skill Category

Main Concepts

AP Human Geography Skill Category 1: Concepts and Processes

1.A: Describe geographic concepts, processes, models, and theories.

1.B: Explain geographic concepts, processes, models, and theories.

1.C: Compare geographic concepts, processes, models, and theories.

1.D: Describe a relevant geographic concept, process, theory, or model in a specified context.

1.E: Explain the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of different geographic models and theories in a specified context.

AP Human Geography Skill Category 2: Spatial Relationships

2.A: Describe spacial patterns, networks, and relationships.

2.B: Explain spatial relationships in a specified context or region of the world using geographic concepts, processes, models, and theories.

2.C: Explain a likely outcome in a geographic scenario using geographic concepts, processes, models, and theories..

2.D: Explain the significance of geographic similarities and differences among different locations and/or at different times.

2.E: Explain the degree to which a geographic concept, process, model, or theory effectively explains geographic effects in different contexts and regions of the world.

AP Human Geography Skill Category 3: Data Analysis

3.A: Identify the different types of data presented in maps and in quantitative and geospatial data.

3.B: Describe spatial patterns in maps and in quantitative and geospatial data.

3.C: Explain patterns and trends in maps and in quantitative and geospatial data to draw conclusions.

3.D: Compare patterns and trends in maps and in quantitative and geospatial data to draw conclusions.

3.E: Explain what maps or data imply or illustrate about geographic principles, processes, and outcomes.

3.F: Explain possible limitations of the data provided.

AP Human Geography Skill Category 4: Source Analysis

4.A: Identify the different types of information presented in visual sources.

4.B: Describe the spatial patterns presented in visual sources.

4.C: Explain patterns and trends in visual sources to draw conclusions.

4.D: Compare patterns and trends in sources to draw conclusions.

4.E: Explain how maps, images, and landscapes illustrate or relate to geographic principles, processes, and outcomes.

4.F: Explain possible limitations of visual sources provided.

AP Human Geography Skill Category 5: Scale Analysis

5.A: Identify the scales of analysis presented by maps, quantitative and geospatial data, images, and landscapes.

5.B: Explain spatial relationships across various geographic scales using geographic concepts, processes, models, and theories.

5.C: Compare geographic characteristics and processes at various scales.

5.D: Explain the degree to which a geographic concept, process, model, or theory effectively explains geographic effects across various geographic scales.

AP Human Geography Content Areas

The test covers seven units related to different fundamental components of Human Geography. Each of the seven units focuses on three different “big ideas”: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO) 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP) 
  3. Spatial Processes and Societal Change (SPS) 

These big ideas are further broken down into learning objectives specific to the unit’s content, which are then broken down into more specific essential knowledge items. The units on which you’ll be tested are as follows:

AP Human Geography Unit 1: Thinking Geographically (8–10% of exam) 

Big ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): Why do geographers study relationships and patterns among and between places? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How do geographers use maps to help them discover patterns and relationships in the world? 
  3. Spatial Processes and Societal Change (SPS): How do geographers use a spatial perspective to analyze complex issues and relationships? 

AP Human Geography Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes (12–17% of exam) 

Big Ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): How does where and how people live impact global cultural, political, and economic patterns? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How does the interplay of environmental, economic, cultural, and political factors influence change in the population? 
  3. Spatial Patterns and Societal Change (SPS): How do changes in population affect a place’s economy, culture, and politics?

AP Human Geography Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes (12–17% of exam) 

Big Ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): How do where people live and what resources they have access to impact their cultural practices? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How does the interaction of people contribute to the spread of cultural practices? 
  3. Spatial Patterns and Societal Change (SPS): How and why do cultural ideas, practices, and innovations change or disappear over time?

AP Human Geography Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes (12–17% of exam) 

Big Ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): How do historical and current events influence political structures around the world? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How are balances of power reflected in political boundaries and government power structures? 
  3. Spatial Patterns and Societal Change (SPS): How can political, economic, cultural, or technological changes challenge state sovereignty?

AP Human Geography Unit 5: Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes (12–17% of exam) 

Big Ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): How do a people’s culture and the resources available to them influence how they grow food? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How does what people produce and consume vary in different locations? 
  3. Spatial Patterns and Societal Change (SPS): What kind of cultural changes and techno- logical advances have impacted the way people grow and consume food?

AP Human Geography Unit 6: Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes (12–17% of exam) 

Big Ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): How do physical geography and resources impact the presence and growth of cities? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How are the attitudes, values, and balance of power of a population reflected in the built landscape? 
  3. Spatial Patterns and Societal Change (SPS): How are urban areas affected by unique economic, political, cultural, and environmental challenges?

AP Human Geography Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes (12–17% of exam) 

Big Ideas: 

  1. Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO): Why does economic and social development happen at different times and at different rates in different places? 
  2. Impacts and Interactions (IMP): How might environmental problems stemming from industrialization be remedied through sustainable development strategies? 
  3. Spatial Patterns and Societal Change (SPS): Why has industrialization helped improve standards of living while also contributing to geographically uneven development?

For a more detailed breakdown of each unit on the AP Human Geography Exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to Topics on the AP Human Geography Exam

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