History · The Unraveled Teacher

The Importance of Geography in the AP® World History Classroom

There are a few things that I inevitably tend to assume my AP students know, and basic geography is definitely on that list. Here we are again, at the end of another very long year, and it’s plain as day that Southeast Asia is the most elusive geographic region for students. It’s like they only see the “Asia” part of Southeast Asia and just default to China in their minds. In terms of the AP exam, this is a really simple mistake that can be the difference between zero points and full points on the FRQs.

In Unit 1, we break down the world in regions and take a look at each individually. This is really helpful for students, but by the time spring rolls around, we are so far from Unit 1 that the regional breakdown of Unit 1 has left the brains of students who are trying to get ready for a multitude of exams. Because the majority of the course is so thematic, we get away from looking at just Southeast Asia vs. East Asia in later units. This is why it’s really important to just have periodic check-ins on what exactly Southeast Asia is composed of.

When asked to analyze changes and continuities in the formation of national identities within Southeast Asia from 1914 to the present, I had a beautifully crafted response about China and Mao’s Great Leap Forward that included details about the “Smashing Sparrows Campaign.” Had the question been about Asia in general or East Asia, this would have been a full-credit response. But given that China isn’t in Southeast Asia, this simple mistake renders the whole response incorrect. This is exactly the kind of thing that can make the difference between a 2 and a 3 on the AP exam, so it’s really important not overlook the importance of reinforcing basic knowledge of geography throughout the year.

In the very first week of school, I like to do a lesson focused just on geography for my students. It can feel very simple, but so many students come in to high school without a solid foundation in geography. Then, throughout the year, simple political geography quizzes can help keep students fresh on this front. In Unit 8, for example, the content for China and Vietnam in the context of the spread of communism is lumped together even though China and Vietnam are parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia respectively. For students, it is very easy for them to think that because the countries are talked about in the same topic, and because they share a border and are both in Asia, that either Vietnam or China would be a good example for a question about Southeast Asia. If it’s been months since you’ve talked about regions, this is a completely understandable mistake.

Simple map quizzes can go a long way in AP World History

So next year, don’t forget to check in with your kids about geography! A simple activity that can be really helpful is to display SAQ questions and just have students list the places that would apply to the question. This can work kind of like a game, and it really helps students get a firm grasp of which countries to focus on. But until next school year rolls around, enjoy your summer!

Want to have your entire year covered and reduce your prep time? Take a look at this AP® World History curriculum that includes lectures, vocabulary, primary source activities, quizzes, practice MCQs, graphic organizers and more! Designed to follow the CED very closely, these resources focus on what students need to achieve success in the course and the exam.


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