AP® Human Geography Course and Exam Description

AP® Human Geography is a challenging and rewarding social sciences course. It is one of the most popular social studies courses students can take during their high school career. In 2023, 54% of students who took the AP Human Geography exam worldwide scored a 3 or higher.1 Instead of 9th grade Social Studies, students could take AP Human Geography for an entire school year.

The AP HUG course is equivalent to a college-level introductory human geography course. It teaches students how to investigate patterns and processes that describe how societies perceive, use, and alter the Earth's surface. Since the exam assesses students' understanding of course concepts and objectives, developing a good understanding of these key concepts is important. The AP Human Geography Practice Tests are a great tool to help you prepare for the final exam. Students who practice for exams ahead of time are more confident and prepared than those who don’t.

This article will provide an overview of the AP Human Geography units, topics, and concepts that students taking the course should be familiar with. This can be especially helpful when preparing for the exam.

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What Are the AP Human Geography Course Skills?

The AP Human Geography curriculum is based on the National Geography Standards, which were published in 1994 and updated in 2012.2 The five skill categories and associated skills that AP Human Geography students must master are outlined below.

Skill Category 1: Concepts and Processes

This category requires examining geographical theories, methodologies, ideas, mechanisms, and frameworks within both theoretical and practical applications.


  1. Describe geographical concepts, procedures, prototypes, and theories.
  2. Explain geographical concepts, procedures, prototypes, and theories.
  3. Compare geographical concepts, processes, models, and theories.
  4. Describe appropriate geographic concepts, processes, models, or theories in a given context.
  5. Explain the advantages, disadvantages, and limitations of geographic models and theories in a given context.

Skill Category 2: Spatial Relationships

This category requires analyzing and applying geographical patterns, connections, and outcomes in different contexts.


  1. Describe spatial patterns, networks, and connections.
  2. Define spatial relationships in a specified context or region with the help of geographic concepts, processes, models, or theories.
  3. Describe the likely outcome of a geographical scenario with the help of geographic concepts, processes, models, or theories.
  4. Clarify the significance of geographic similarities and differences between various locations and/or time periods.
  5. Describe the extent to which a geographic concept, process, model, or theory effectively explains geographic effects in different global contexts and regions.

Skill Category 3: Data Analysis

This category requires understanding and analyzing quantitative geographic data shown on maps, tables, charts, graphs, satellite images, and infographics.


  1. Determine the various types of data presented in maps, quantitative data, and geospatial data.
  2. Explain spatial patterns shown in maps and in quantitative and geospatial data.
  3. Describe patterns and trends in quantitative and geospatial data and on maps to draw conclusions.
  4. Compare patterns and trends in maps and quantitative and geospatial data and draw conclusions.
  5. Describe the geographic principles, processes, and outcomes that maps and data imply or illustrate.
  6. Describe any potential limitations of the provided data.

Skill Category 4: Source Analysis

This requires analyzing and interpreting geographic information in maps, images (e.g., satellites, photographs, cartoons), and landscapes.


  1. Use visual sources to identify the different kinds of information they contain.
  2. Describe spatial patterns given in visual sources.
  3. Analyze visual sources for patterns and trends to draw conclusions.
  4. Draw conclusions by comparing visual patterns and trends.
  5. Use maps and images as a way to illustrate or explain geographic principles, processes, and outcomes.
  6. Define the potential limitations of the provided visual sources.

Skill Category 5: Scale Analysis

This requires explaining spatial relationships at various geographic scales by examining geographic theories, approaches, concepts, processes, and models.


  1. Identify the analysis given in maps, quantitative and geospatial data, and images and landscapes.
  2. Use geographic concepts, processes, models, or theories to explain spatial relationships at different geographic scales.
  3. Compare features and processes of geography at different geographic scales.
  4. Explain how well a geographic idea, process, model, or theory explains the effects of geography at different geographic scales.

AP Human Geography - Three Big Ideas

The big ideas unify the course and are referred to frequently throughout the course. They serve as the foundation of the course and facilitate meaningful connections between different concepts. Students are able to develop profound conceptual knowledge by revisiting and applying the big ideas in a range of circumstances. The following is a concise explanation of each of the major themes of the course.

Big Idea 1: Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO)

Human Society and spatial patterns are organized by political, historical, cultural, and economic influences.

Big Idea 2: Impacts and Interactions (IMP)

Complex cause-and-effect relationships exist between people, their environments, and historical and contemporary behavioral patterns.

Big Idea 3: Spatial Process and Societal Change (SPS)

A spatial perspective investigates how phenomena are related in specific locations in order to investigate human organization and its environmental consequences.

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AP Human Geography - Seven Units and Topics

The course content is divided into seven units, typically like the content organized in college courses and textbooks. Each unit's teachable content is represented by its "topics." While most of the topics may be covered in one or two class periods, the course’s pace is adjusted to match the needs of the institution. Here are the seven AP Human Geography units, their topics and respective weights on the multiple-choice section.

Master all seven AP Human Geography units effortlessly with our comprehensive collection of AP Human Geography practice questions. Tailored to enhance your understanding and knowledge retention, our practice questions will give you an edge to score big on the AP Human Geography exam.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

AP HUG is highly recommended as an entry-level Advanced Placement (AP) course. Where on one hand students often perceive the course content to be “easy,” they find the actual AP Human Geography exam somewhat challenging.

Themes are presented as the big ideas of the course’s framework. The following are the themes for AP Human Geography:

  1. Big Idea 1: Patterns and Spatial Organization (PSO)
  2. Big Idea 2: Impacts and Interactions (IMP)
  3. Big Idea 3: Spatial Process and Societal Change (SPS)
  1. Unit 1: Thinking Geographically (8–10%)
  2. Unit 2: Population and Migration Patterns and Processes (12–17%)
  3. Unit 3: Cultural Patterns and Processes (12–17%)
  4. Unit 4: Political Patterns and Processes (12–17%)
  5. Unit 5: Agriculture and Rural Land-Use Patterns and Processes (12–17%)
  6. Unit 6: Cities and Urban Land-Use Patterns and Processes (12–17%)
  7. Unit 7: Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes (12–17%)


  1. 1(2023). AP Score Distributions. College Board. Retrieved November 17, 2023, from
  2. 2(2020, Fall). AP® Human Geography Course and Exam Description. College Board.

Read More About AP Human Geography

A thorough study guide with tips and advice can help you score 5 easily. See how to prepare effectively for the AP Human Geography exam by using our expert-made Study Guide.
Are you considering AP Human Geography? In our AP Human Geography Exam guide, you will learn everything about the prerequisites, difficulty levels, and reasons for taking the exam.
If you are familiar with the test’s configuration, you will maximize your potential for a high score on the exam. Here’s a guide that covers everything from exam format to question types.
Interested in learning about AP Human Geography scoring? We got everything that you need in this scoring guide—also including a score calculator to easily predict your AP test scores.
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