Is AP Human Geography Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

Kick off your AP studies and boost your GPA through the AP Human Geography course. Prepare for an impactful college degree in majors like anthropology.

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by Meg Whitenton

Updated April 7, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Human Geography Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide


AP Human Geography is often labeled as moderately to highly difficult, primarily for its unique course content. While the concept of human geography may seem foreign to many students, chances are they've already explored some of the course's tenets on their own.

With the proper preparation, students can successfully complete a course in AP Human Geography and score high on the exam. This guide outlines what to expect as an AP Human Geography student.

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What Does AP Human Geography Cover?

AP Human Geography links math, data, and statistics to patterns in migration, human population, and geographical evolution. People study human geography to understand how their existence has changed the Earth's surface.

Course topics include cultural patterns and processes, population and migration patterns and processes, and cities and urban-land-use patterns and processes. Here are the course's main units:

Additionally, students develop skills in thinking geographically, understanding spatial relationships, and interpreting data. AP Human Geography expands on existing skills many humans use every day, like identifying patterns and connecting concepts to real-world scenarios.

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Human Geography? 3 Key Factors

Determining an AP course's level of difficulty is subjective, though factors such as pass rate, amount of study materials, and existing subject skills are major indicators. Classes like AP Human Geography tend to primarily attract dedicated, well-prepared students in this subject.

The Pass Rate

The College Board defines a passing score on an AP exam as a 3 or higher. AP courses in which a high percentage of students earn a 3 or higher can be deemed "easy," whereas lower-than-average pass rates indicate a higher level of difficulty.

The table below illustrates a significantly lower pass rate among AP Human Geography students than for test-takers across all AP exams, signifying a challenge for students aspiring to pass this exam.

The perfect score rate (i.e., a 5 out of 5) is also much lower for AP Human Geography than it is across all AP classes.

AP Human Geography Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Human Geography 59.0% 11.8%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

AP exam pass rates and perfect scores are a sensible place to start in deciding whether AP Human Geography is hard; however, students should also weigh the strength of their school and teacher to deliver the course content and prepare for the exam.

The Course Material

The difficulty of the class also depends on the amount of material the curriculum covers. AP Human Geography requires seven units of study, in topics designed to build spatial-perception and comparative skills.

This subject typically does not always require specific prerequisites, which may seem beneficial to students but can actually make absorbing the course material more challenging. Students should allow plenty of time for each study module and pace themselves during exam preparations.

Your Subject Skills

Each student brings unique skills and experience to an AP course. While AP Human Geography does not necessarily require formal academic prerequisites, students who begin with a heightened sense of self-awareness, cultural sensitivity, and an open mind can find success in this course.

Additionally, experts recommend taking requisite courses in world geography and history. AP Human Geography also suits students with excellent memorization and data comprehension skills as well as a tendency toward detail-orientation.

When Should You Take AP Human Geography?

AP Human Geography is less difficult than some other AP courses and, as such, is often taken during 9th or 10th grade. AP Human Geography typically does not require the same kind of academic experience as other AP classes reserved for rising seniors.

Like any AP course, students should allow plenty of study time to absorb the material. Generally, students who take world history and geography before AP Human Geography enjoy a curricular advantage.

Most schools give recommendations but ultimately allow students to choose how many AP courses to take simultaneously. Students might consider taking only one difficult course or several easy courses at a time. Learners who experience AP Human Geography as an especially easy course may choose to take it at the same time as other AP courses recommended for the 9th or 10th grade.

AP Human Geography Exam: What You Need to Know

While a course in AP Human Geography provides a somewhat "easy" introduction to this subject, the exam is known to be exceptionally hard.

As shown below, the highest percentage of students scored a 1 on the exam in 2020, indicating a high level of difficulty in achieving even a 3, the minimum score needed for advanced placement or course credit at most colleges.

The following sections address how the exam is arranged and scored.

AP Human Geography
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 25,712 11.8%
4 48,809 22.4%
3 54,220 24.8%
2 23,901 10.9%
1 65,691 30.1%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Human Geography Exam Structured?

The AP Human Geography exam lasts two hours and 15 minutes. Questions are delivered across two sections, in multiple-choice and free-response format:

The exam includes multiple-choice questions designed to test a student's abilities to understand geographic concepts, interpret geographic data, and analyze spatial relationships.

The free-response section focuses on assessing a student's spatial-relationship skills across geographic scales. Free-response questions include real-life geographic situations or scenarios, data, images, and maps.

How Is the AP Human Geography Exam Scored?

Each section of the AP Human Geography exam counts for half the total score. Students can score up to 60 points in the multiple-choice section and seven points per each free-response question. The composite score is ultimately converted into a numbered score from 1-5.

Learners should tailor exam preparations to their strengths and vulnerabilities. For example, students known to struggle more with writing or reading comprehension than answering multiple-choice questions may choose to focus their studies in this area.

Students can score high with a variety of combinations of points, per section. Learners who achieve the maximum allotment of points (60) for multiple-choice questions yet only score four out of seven possible points on each free-response question may still earn a score of 4-5, for example.

How the AP Human Geography Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Multiple-Choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
Free-Response Question 1 (No Stimuli) 16.66%
Free-Response Question 2 (One Stimulus) 16.66%
Free-Response Question 3 (Two Stimuli) 16.66%

Source: College Board

AP Human Geography: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

Though school policies vary, most colleges award placement and/or credit to students who earn a 3 or higher on the AP Human Geography exam. A high score in this subject is particularly impressive to college admissions advisors, since the exam is infamously difficult.

A score of 3 denotes a passing or "qualified" grade of C, C+, or B-, according to the College Board. Higher scores (4-5) can afford students automatic placement in college-level courses and earn course credit in many universities.

Should I Take AP Human Geography?

AP Human Geography can offer well-prepared students the opportunity to boost their GPA, skip general education requirements, and earn college credit. Students tend to grasp the course content easily but require extra time to prepare for the demanding exam.

This course provides a sensible introduction to AP curriculum for 9th and 10th grade high school students; however, students should not assume they can effortlessly pass the exam. AP Human Geography especially benefits students considering diverse college majors including anthropology, art history, and cultural studies.

In 2020, the highest percentage of test-takers earned the lowest possible score (1), underscoring the difficulty of the exam.

Interestingly, the next-largest percentage earned a 3 that same year, emphasizing that earning a passing score in the exam was within reach. Asking instructors and former students their opinions can help gauge the level of difficulty.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Human Geography

Is AP Human Geography worth it?

Yes, AP Human Geography courses offer multiple benefits to high school students. Students can take AP Human Geography early in high school to help strengthen their GPA and eventually earn credit toward a college program in a variety of majors.

AP Human Geography is ideal for introductory-level AP learning. Students can develop skills in mastering the immersive curriculum, time management, and structured testing methods required to successfully pass an AP course.

Do colleges care about AP Human Geography?

Yes, colleges take notice of students who can earn a passing score in subjects like Human Geography. As 9th or 10th graders, students will eventually demonstrate to college admissions advisors their commitment to AP education, early on. Rising seniors can show their determination to earn college credit or placement through AP work.

AP Human Geography provides unique preparation for many majors, including ethnic, environmental, and social studies. Students should research the specific requirements of their school in determining how AP Human Geography credits can be applied.

How many credits do you get for AP Human Geography?

While schools' credit policies vary, schools commonly award three credits for a score of 3 or above on the AP Human Geography exam. Three is typically the maximum number of credits awarded for a minimum score of 3-4. Some schools may offer additional credits and/or advanced placement for students who meet the minimum score requirements.

Other schools may only award credits for a perfect score on the AP exam. For example, MIT offers credit for 5 scores only, and only in select AP subject categories, including Human Geography. While MIT does not offer partial credit for lower scores, some schools may extend this benefit to students who earn a 3-4 in AP Human Geography.

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