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Unit I.  Human Geography: Its Nature and Perspectives (5-10%)

In AP® Human Geography, unit 1 covers the basics about geography and lays the foundation for the rest of the course. The following guide will be updated periodically with hyperlinks to excellent resources. As you are reviewing for this unit, focus on the key concepts!

You can request the full Ultimate Guide to AP Human Geography here.

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Unit 1 Summary

The following summary is from AMSCO AP Human Geography:

Human geography is the study of why people choose to live where they do and how humans and the environment interact to create the world that we live in. Human geographers seek to discover who lives where, how they live, and why they live there. The study of human geography involves the use of maps, models, and spatial analysis technologies as a means of abstracting and simplifying space and all it contains for study. Maps depict a three-dimensional Earth in two-dimensions, are inherently flawed due to this, and are designed with special purposes that should match the needs of the map-user.  This first unit emphasizes basic geography skills and the various types and uses of maps.

To understand the spatial aspects of phenomena, geographers use a broad set of concepts, skills, and tools. One basic concept is distance. For example, how far apart in space are houses in a community? This distance affects everything from how people relate to their neighbors to where stores will open. A geographic skill is an ability to apply spatial concepts to understand how people live. The most common tool for geographers is a map. A map can show almost any phenomenon that has a spatial distribution. Maps can help people identify and analyze world patterns and processes. For example, mapping the spread of a disease can help public health officials decide what steps to take to counter the spread.

One systematic way to study geographic phenomena is to use Four Level Analysis. The levels are comprehension of the basic information, identification and explanation of a pattern, and prediction of what the pattern might lead to. Traditionally, geographers would gather data through field experiences. To make maps, they carefully measured distances and drew what they saw. Today, geospatial technologies such as GIS, GPS and remote sensing,  make gathering information far more simple, though field experiences are still important.


Unit 1 Essential Questions

  • How does the way that geographers look at the world differ from that of other scientists?
  • What tools and techniques do geographers use to analyze the world?

Unit 1 Models & Theories to Know


  • Latitude, Longitude
  • GIS
  • Types of Thematic Maps (isoline, dot, proportional symbol, choropleth)



Past FRQs from Period 1

STUDY TIP: There has yet to be any FRQs about unit 1. Focus on the vocabulary and foundational concepts here, but don’t spend too much time reviewing this unit!



*The following outline was adapted from the AP® Human Geography Course Description as published by College Board in 2015 found here. This outline reflects the most recent revisions to the course.

  1. Geography as a field of inquiry
  2. Evolution of key geographical concepts and models associated with notable geographers
  3. Key concepts underlying the geographic perspective: location, space, place, pattern, regionalization, and globalization
  4. Key geographical skills such as:
    1. How to use and think about maps and spatial data
    2. How to understand and interpret the implications of associations among phenomena in places
    3. How to recognize and interpret at different scales the relationships among patterns and processes
    4. How to define regions and evaluate the regionalization process
    5. How to characterize and analyze changing interconnections among places
  5. New geographic technologies such as GIS and GPS
  6. Sources of geographical ideas and data: the field, census data, etc.



STUDY TIP: These are the concepts and vocabulary from unit 1 that most commonly appear on the exam. Create a quizlet deck to make sure you are familiar with these terms!

  • Changing attributes of place (built landscape, sequent occupance)
  • Cultural attributes (cultural landscape)
  • Density (arithmetic, physiological)
  • Diffusion (hearth, relocation, expansion, hierarchical, contagious, stimulus)
  • Direction (absolute, relative)
  • Dispersion/concentration (dispersed/scattered, clustered/agglomerated)
  • Distance (absolute, relative)
  • Distribution
  • Environmental determinism
  • Location (absolute, relative, site, situation, place name)
  • Pattern (linear, centralized, random)
  • Physical attributes (natural landscape)
  • Possibilism
  • Region (formal/uniform, functional/nodal, perceptual/vernacular)
  • Scale (implied degree of generalization)
  • Size
  • Spatial (of or pertaining to space on or near Earth’s surface)
  • Spatial interaction (accessibility, connectivity, network, distance decay, friction of distance, time-space compression)
  • Geographic Tools
  • Distortion
  • Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Grid (North and South Poles, latitude, parallel, equator, longitude, meridian, prime meridian, international date line)
  • Map (Maps are the tool most uniquely identified with geography; the ability to use and interpret maps is an essential geographic skill.) Map scale (distance on a map relative to distance on Earth)
  • Map types (thematic, statistical, cartogram, dot, choropleth, isoline)
  • Mental map
  • Model (a simplified abstraction of reality, structured to clarify causal relationships): Geographers use models (e.g., Demographic Transition, Epidemiological Transition, Gravity, Von Thünen, Weber, Stages of Growth [Rostow], Concentric Circle [Burgess], Sector [Hoyt], Multiple Nuclei, Central Place [Christaller], and so on) to explain patterns, make informed decisions, and predict future behaviors.
  • Projection
  • Remote sensing
  • Time zones