The free-response section is the hardest part of any AP test. Although AP Human Geography is much more straightforward than some other humanities AP exams, if you don't have your stuff down, the free-response section can still hit you where it hurts. In this article, I'll take you through the structure of the free-response section, some tips for answering AP Human Geography FRQs strategically, examples of what actual questions look like, and a few places where you can find the best practice materials.
AP Human Geography Free-Response Section FormatThere are three questions on the free-response section, each worth the same percentage of your score. You’ll have an hour and 15 minutes to answer all three questions. Free-response prompts will ask you to:
- Demonstrate an understanding of geographic models
- Analyze and evaluate geographic concepts
- Cite and explain examples of various geographic processes
- Synthesize different topics covered in the curriculum
Most free-response questions have multiple parts, and you can earn anywhere from 6-10 raw points on each of them. It’s usually fairly obvious where the points are earned on these questions, as you’ll see in the examples in the upcoming sections.
How to Answer AP Human Geography FRQs
Before we get into examples with answer explanations, I’ll give you some essential steps for answering these types of questions. AP Human Geography free-response questions are typically pretty straightforward so you can attack them in a methodical fashion. Here's a sample question from the 2015 exam that I'll use as a reference so you can see how the different steps apply:
Step 1: Read the Introductory Statement
Before you start in on the first part of the question, make sure you read the short introductory blurb. It sets up the topic you’ll be analyzing and gives you firmer ground to stand on when addressing the rest of the question. In the sample question above, the introductory statement makes it clear that the question will deal with refugees and the political and social origins of mass emigration.
Reading all the introductory statements for the three free-response questions in the section before you start answering any of them can help you decide where to begin. If you see a topic that is especially familiar, you might go for that question first because you’ll be able to answer it the fastest.
Step 2: Identify the Key Command
In each part of the question, underline what it’s asking you to do. Common examples of key commands include “compare,” “describe,” “identify,” and “explain.” It’s helpful to underline these words to keep yourself on track when responding to the question. This is also useful because it will get you in the habit of paying closer attention to the differences between each of these tasks.
For example, a question that asks you to “identify” something will merit a much more succinct answer than one that asks you to “describe” it. In part A of the sample question, the key command is "define," meaning you could just give a one sentence answer that clearly outlines what a refugee is. For part B, the key command is "discuss," which denotes a longer answer that elaborates on each reason for refugees leaving their countries of origin.
In part C, the key commands are "identify and explain," which would mean a very succinct answer followed by greater detail. The final part of the question asks you to "explain" two economic impacts, which means a couple of sentences of further clarification for each example you give. You’ll save time and earn points if you’re careful to make these distinctions!
Step 3: Hit the Points
Now it’s time to answer the question. Make an estimate of how many points are possible in this part of the question. For example, if a question tells you to give two examples of how a concept applies to a certain country’s economic landscape, there are likely two points that you can potentially earn for that part of the question. In the sample question, you can see relatively clearly that part A is worth one point, part B is worth three points, part C is worth two points, and part D is worth two points.
Part C is the only tricky part - notice that you're only asked for one reason, but you must identify AND explain it. There is typically one point available for completing each key command. After making this determination, write a clear answer that addresses all of the points thoroughly and will make it easy for the grader to find your responses.
Step 4: Reread and Double Check
When you’ve finished writing your answer, reread the question and your response to make sure you’ve done everything it asked you to do. If you’re satisfied, move onto the next part of the question, and repeat the process of identifying key commands and hitting all the possible points. After you finish the last part, check over all of your answers for that question one last time to ensure that everything is the way you want it to be. Then you can move onto the next free-response question.
Review your answers with a second, more critical eye. I think this picture is photoshopped, but I don't know for sure because I don't feel like Googling "can you have two pupil/iris combos within one eyeball?" Just kidding, I did Google it, and it's probably not a thing, but not even the internet knows for sure. OoOoOoOo.
AP Human Geography FRQ Examples
In this section, I'll go through the answers to two different free-response questions that were asked on real AP Human Geography tests within the last couple of years. Here's the first question:
For this question, a knowledge of the most prevalent geographic models and theories is very important. You need to be able to relate one of these models to the economic development of a specific country. This question requires almost all the skills listed in the first section of this guide.
As you may have guessed, there were three points possible for the answer to the first part. Here are some examples of differences between the two models that you could identify and compare:
- Rostow’s five-stage model says that national economies are developing forward over time (never moving backward) while Wallerstein’s core-periphery model says that countries are static or can move backward in development.
- Rostow’s model says that international trade may help countries to grow economically while Wallerstein’s model says that international trade strengthens development in core countries and constrains development in peripheral countries.
- Rostow’s model provides a national-level analysis while Wallerstein’s model provides an international-level analysis.
For part B, you need to show that you can apply these models in the context of Mexico and Brazil, countries that are in the midst of fully developing and modernizing their economies. One point would be earned for identifying a stage or part of one of the models, and a second point would be earned for explaining that stage or part. For example, you could talk about Stage 4, or the Drive to Maturity, in Rostow’s model. This stage is exemplified by increased manufacturing specialization and integration into the global economy.
For part C, you would have to identify two examples of the core-periphery concept below the national level. One example might be a core city and its peripheral suburbs. Another example might be a core productive area surrounded by a less developed or impoverished periphery.
Now, let’s take a look at a second example with an image component:
For part A, we have to consult the map and determine one characteristic that the shaded countries have in common. Examples of characteristics you could mention include:
- They’re all developing countries.
- They’re former colonies.
- They all use plantation or small-scale agriculture.
- They’re all equatorial countries.
Part A was worth one point. Notice that this only requires a very broad understanding of the nature of these countries or a basic knowledge of climate in different parts of the world.
For part B, you could earn two points for identifying each impact of coffee farming. Possibilities include:
- Economic development: Coffee farming leads to increased employment, growth in GNP, development of infrastructure, improved foreign exchange, increased global trade and better international relations.
- Environmental impacts: Coffee farming causes harmful effects from agricultural chemicals, water use issues, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and soil erosion.
- You could also talk about how coffee farming might lead to too much economic dependence on a single commodity and cause the land to be used for commercial agriculture rather than food.
Part C was also worth two points, one for identifying a way that increased consumption affects coffee-producing countries and one for explaining the effect in more detail. For example, you might say that increased consumption leads to increased production. This, in turn, means more resources dedicated to coffee production, the adoption of new technologies related to the industry, increased profit, and the introduction of new producers into the coffee industry.
Finally, for part D, you have to explain a specifically urban change in the developed world related to coffee production. You might say that more coffee shops will start to spring up in urban areas. That gets you one point. Then, you could earn a second point if you got into a more specific discussion about how the placement of coffee shops is related to geographic theories. You might explain it in the context of consumer proximity, central place theory, and diffusion.
How to Practice AP Human Geography FRQs
You can find plenty of sample AP Human Geography free-response questions (and their corresponding answer guidelines) online. The College Board site has real test questions that were administered between 2004 and 2015 with sample responses and scoring guidelines. This is the best resource for free response questions because you can be sure that they’re accurate representations of what you’ll see on your exam in terms of content and difficulty level. There’s nothing wrong with using free-response questions crafted by test prep companies for preliminary practice, but you should always incorporate real questions into your studying at frequent intervals.
Barron’s has a free practice test that you can take in timed or practice mode depending on how serious you’re feeling. It might be good to make use of the timed mode when you’re close to the real test so you can get an accurate feel for the conditions. It has three free-response questions just like the actual AP test, and you can consult scoring guidelines to check your answers (the multiple-choice portion of the test is scored automatically, but you have to do a little more work for free response). If you’re not averse to spending a bit of money ($25), you might also register with Learnerator to get access to a bunch of additional AP Human Geography practice free-response questions.
It's time to fly free! Go, respond. It is your destiny.
If you want an overview of the whole exam with examples of multiple-choice and free-response questions, take a look at my survey of the AP Human Geography test including study tips and sample questions.
Looking for more resources to use in preparing for this test? Check out my ultimate study guide for AP Human Geography!
If you want more free response practice, you might consider getting a review book to supplement the online resources listed in this article. Here's a list of the best review books for AP Human Geography.
Practice tests are the best way to get acclimated to the timing and question formats that you'll encounter on the AP Human Geography exam. They'll also help you figure out where you need to put in additional study time to improve your scores. In this article, I'll link to all the practice tests available for AP Human Geography, including full official tests, full unofficial tests, and mini unofficial quizzes that test specific parts of the curriculum.
Official AP Human Geography Practice Tests
Official practice tests are - officially - the best materials to use in preparation for any standardized test, including AP Human Geography. You can be confident that the difficulty level of the questions is on par with what you'll see on the real test, which means you'll be able to estimate your score pretty accurately.
This is in contrast to many unofficial practice materials, which can be hit or miss regarding their predictive value for the real test. Practice tests that weren't created by the College Board may have questions that are phrased and formatted differently or are either too easy or too challenging.
Many past free-response questions for this exam are posted on the College Board site, and the course description has a set of sample multiple-choice questions. If nothing else, you can refer to them as benchmarks to make comparisons with the unofficial tests you take. They should give you a better idea of how difficult unofficial test questions are relative to those you'll see on the real exam.
Unfortunately, there is only one official released AP Human Geography exam that I can link to in this article. However, that’s not to say other more shady individuals haven’t violated these terms and posted sample tests. Google is your friend (wink wink).
Without further ado, here are the three resources I could find for official AP Human Geography questions:
2006 AP Human Geography Exam (PDF download)
This includes the entire test (both multiple-choice and free-response questions), and there’s an answer key if you scroll down to the bottom.
Official Free Response Questions (2001-2015)
This includes all the free-response questions that have been asked on the AP Human Geography exam since 2001. Be aware that the scoring guidelines are only included for questions from 2004 onwards, so the first three sets of questions for 2001-2003 don’t have official answers that you can consult.
AP Human Geography Course Description 2015
The latest course description includes 23 sample multiple-choice questions and six sample free-response questions. Free-response answer guidelines are not included, but multiple-choice solutions are.
Authenti City is a great place. The people are so honest, and their practice tests are the best you can get anywhere. Wouldn't recommend it as a vacation destination, though. You will not be able to escape from reality.
Unofficial AP Human Geography Practice Tests
There are many more unofficial AP Human Geography practice tests and quizzes available to you in various forms. These materials are useful, but you should avoid taking them completely at face value. I’ll list full practice test resources first, and then I’ll get into sites that provide short quizzes on specific topics.
Full Practice Tests
Barron’s Free Online Practice Exam
This is a full practice exam in the same format as the real AP test (multiple choice, free response, the whole package). You can choose to take it in practice mode or timed mode depending on which stage you're at in your studying. I’d recommend saving this practice test for when you get closer to the AP exam. It’s good for simulating real test conditions when you feel relatively prepared and want to assess your score level.
REA Full Practice Exam 1
This is also a full practice exam in the same format as the real test. It has answer explanations, and I think the questions are solid replicas of what you’ll see on the AP exam.
Full Practice Exam from an AP Teacher
Once again, this exam is in the same format as the real test. It includes both free-response and multiple-choice questions, and you'll find answer explanations at the end of the document.
Varsity Tutors Diagnostic Tests
This site offers four diagnostic tests for AP Human Geography with 75 questions each (multiple-choice only). The tests have automatic scoring, and each one is given a preliminary difficulty level rating. Varsity Tutors also has tons of mini practice quizzes listed by concept if you want to practice topic-specific questions, as well as flashcards that will help you learn all the terminology for this course.
Don’t forget about the practice tests that are available to you in AP Human Geography review books. Most review books offer at least two full practice tests. Read my article on the best review books for this class to get a sense of which ones fit your studying needs.
Short Quizzes on Specific Concepts and Geographic Regions
Albert.IO Practice Questions
Albert.IO (formerly Learnerator) has questions on every topic covered by the course that are categorized by difficulty level. The site keeps a running tally of how many questions you’ve answered correctly in the easy, medium, and hard categories.
SoftSchools Practice Quizzes
SoftSchools has a series of 10-question practice quizzes on each topic. They're good for brief review sessions!
Chapter Quizzes for Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities (11th Edition)
Select a chapter on the left navigation bar, and you can scroll down to find a link to its corresponding multiple-choice quiz. These quizzes are helpful for review even if your class isn’t using this particular textbook.
Sheppard Software Geography Practice
You'll earn points for citing specific examples in your free-response answer, and many multiple-choice questions ask about particular areas of the world. This site provides fun exercises that will help you learn exactly where everything is. You can progress through tutorial, beginner and advanced levels in activities that test your knowledge of the political and geographic divisions that exist within each continent.
More of us need to take these geography quizzes so people stop coming out with depressing surveys concluding that 75 percent of Americans think Australia is in Europe. I made up that statistic, but it might as well be real.
How to Use AP Human Geography Practice Tests
Here's an overview of how you can use these practice tests for review at different stages in the school year as you get closer and closer to the AP test.
First Semester: Practice Tests as Review for In-Class Assessments
During your first semester, you won’t have gotten through enough of the curriculum to take full practice tests yet. What you can do is take shorter quizzes that are specific to the topics you’ve learned already. Make use of sites like Learnerator, Varsity Tutors, and many of the other unofficial listings that divide questions by subject. You can also practice writing answers to free-response questions that pertain to the topics your class has already covered.
Second Semester: Preparing for the AP Test
When you're midway through your second semester, you can start preparing for the AP test more directly. Take a full practice test and score it so you can get a better sense of your knowledge and abilities. You can use one of the three full practice tests listed in the unofficial test section for this step. I’d recommend saving the near-complete official practice test from 2006 until right before the AP exam so you can get the most accurate score predictions when you’re closest to the test. After you take the test, revisit all the questions where you made mistakes, and make note of their content. This will guide you in deciding which areas you need to study more and which you've already mastered.
Once you've spent a couple of hours reviewing, take another practice test to reassess your score level. If you see some improvement, you can either repeat the process and aim higher or decide you’re satisfied with your current score level. If not, you should think about what went wrong in reviewing your mistakes. Did you only look them over haphazardly? Were you in a distracting environment? Change your approach if you’re not getting the results you want!
Wait, What If Your Class Is Only One Semester?
At some schools, AP Human Geography is only a semester-long class. If that's the case for you, much of the same preparation advice still applies, but it will take place on a slightly different timeline.
If you take the class first semester, you'll have a significant chunk of time between the end of the course and the actual AP test. This can be a big advantage if you use your time wisely and avoid procrastinating (which you'll have to watch out for if you're very busy with your second-semester classes). You'll be able to start the second-semester study process outlined above as soon as you finish the class. There will be plenty of time to take practice tests after your class has covered all the material, so it will be easier to get an accurate reading on your score level before the AP test.
If you take this class second semester, the review process should be essentially the same as if it were a year-long class. The first-semester advice will apply to the first half of your second semester, and the second-semester advice will apply to the second half.
You can afford to progress at a more leisurely pace in your studying if you take the class first semester because you have a few months that you can devote to preparing for the AP test.
Official practice testing materials for AP Human Geography are somewhat scarce. You should wait to use the one full official practice test until you're closer to the AP exam and are looking for highly accurate score predictions. You can use unofficial practice tests and quizzes at any time throughout the year to practice topic-specific questions for in-class assessments and prepare for the AP test as a whole.
Be sure to reflect carefully on your answers to every practice test so you can assess where you went wrong and revisit relevant content. Practice tests should play a key role in your review for any AP test. If you treat them seriously and pay attention to what they tell you about your level of preparation, you're bound to do well on the exam!
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