How to Learn Geography

Three Parts:Getting StartedDeepening Your KnowledgeTesting Your Memory

Learning geography can be a daunting task. Geography is such a broad subject that involves many different areas, and memorizing names of places without much context can seem tedious and difficult. However, mastering geography can give you a rich sense of accomplishment and help you know much more about the world that you live in. You may even find that you have a passion for traveling and learning about new cultures as a result of your study of geography!

Part 1
Getting Started

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    Set your learning goals. The approach that you take will be determined by what your learning goals are. If you would like to just know more about your world or do better at bar trivia questions about geography, the stakes are relatively low. If you are planning to take a multiple-country backpacking trip and will need to know your way around, or if you have slept through an entire geography class and need to prepare before the final exam, the stakes may be higher.
    • Ask yourself what you hope to achieve by learning geography, and let the answer to that question help guide your scope and approach.
    • For example, if you plan to backpack across Europe, you will want to focus on the region through which you are traveling and learn the culture, currency, and perhaps languages of each area.
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    Determine a scope. It is impossible for anyone to immediately learn everything about every place in the world. Determining the scope of your learning, whether it is to know a smaller area really well, or a much bigger area more generally, will help you determine an approach. Some possible scopes may be:
    • Learn every road in my town
    • Learn all the major roads in my metropolitan area
    • Learn all of the cities or counties in my state
    • Learn all of the states and their capitals and governors
    • Learn all of the countries in the world
    • Learn all of the continents and oceans and the most populous countries
    • Learn all of the English-speaking countries
    • Learn all of the regions in Europe
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    Select an approach. There are two main approaches to the study of geography: from the inside out or from the broad to the specific. An approach that moves from the inside out would take the area that you live in and slowly extend out until you have a more general knowledge of the world.[1] An approach that moves from broad to specific would start with very general knowledge and move to more and more specific “layers” of knowledge.
    • If you select an “inside out” approach, begin by learning about your city or county. Then learn about the surrounding counties, then the state as a whole. Then learn about the bordering states, then the states that boarder those. Learn about all of the states, then the bordering countries. Keep expanding outward until you have a working knowledge of the geography of the world.
    • If you select a “broad to specific” approach, start by learning the continents and oceans. Then learn the countries. Then learn the capitals of each country. Then learn the major cities or regions in each country. Then learn the leaders of each country. Continue until you have the level of knowledge that you set out to learn. You may want to work on one continent at a time each time you move to a new level of specificity.
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    Study maps. To learn geography, you need access to maps. Many maps are available online, but you can also use printed maps. Maps contain a wealth of information but come in varying levels of detail; be sure to select a map or maps that provide all of the information that you wish to learn.[2]
    • You may want to find and print copies of blank maps. Copying the names of states, countries, or cities down on a blank map is a good way to learn them, and you can use blank maps to quiz yourself as well.

Part 2
Deepening Your Knowledge

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    Examine culture and people. Getting to know the name of a place on the outline of a map is somewhat impersonal, and memorizing just the names of countries may seem somewhat pointless to you if you don’t connect them to the people who live there.[3] Every place is made up of people with often unique cultures and histories, and getting to know the character of a place by learning about the culture and the people can make your study of geography come to life.[4]
    • Try to make your study more interactive by “experiencing” the culture of a place. For example, you may find videos of a dance or music style unique to the region you’re studying.
    • You could also treat yourself by cooking a recipe from each area you study to put yourself in the culinary shoes of the local population. [5]
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    Learn about border disputes. Borders between countries often have a long history of conflict or controversy. Learning about the conflicts can make it easier to remember who is on each side of the border. [6] Similarly, learning about any name changes of countries or cities—not just the fact that the name changed, but why it changed and who changed it—can give you richer context for understanding the area and remembering the current names of countries or cities.
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    Follow the water. Civilization always settles around water. Most major cities—particularly cities with a long history—can be found near oceans, harbors, or large rivers. Learning about trade routes and imagining details about shipping and sea travel as the continent evolved into its current state can help give land areas context.
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    Connect the geography to another area of interest. If you are trying to learn geography but find it rather dull or rote, try to learn it in terms of an area or subject that does interest you. If you are particularly interested in climate, for example, learning about the climate of each region may help you remember the geography more effectively.[7]
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    Visit places of interest. The best way to really learn about an area is to visit it! While it may seem counter-intuitive to learn the geography after you visit a place (if, indeed, you are learning the geography in order to navigate effectively while visiting), it may be easier to internalize the details if you have an experience to draw upon. [8]
    • For example, if you’re trying to learn about the most populous cities in your state, try to visit each city. Traveling from one to another will give you a sense of the distance between each city as well as the key features of each city.
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    Question the status quo. Part of really understanding something is being able to think about it critically. In the case of geography, you may want to question who decides where borders go, who makes the maps that you are studying, or how political boundaries influence or change native populations who may not have conformed to the borders initially.[9]

Part 3
Testing Your Memory

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    Fill out a blank map. Try to find a blank map of the country, continent, or region you’re learning about.[10] Print the blank map, and do your best to fill the map out. You may want to begin by giving yourself a list of items to place on the map and work towards filling out the map purely from your memory.
    • Try searching online for “blank map of [place].” For example, you may search for “blank map of Africa.”
    • Use pencil while filling out the map so that you can erase and make changes. Additionally, you could reuse the map to quiz yourself again if you erase everything cleanly.
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    Make it fun. One of the best ways to learn anything is to have fun with your learning. If you can find a way to turn your geography learning into a game, you will likely be more successful. Here are some ideas for keeping it fun:
    • Make a bet with a friend who is also learning geography about who can fill out a blank map of an area faster. The loser buys the other person dinner.
    • Make a fake passport, and every time you feel that you have mastered details about a country, give yourself a “stamp” from that country.[11]
    • Play an online geography trivia game.
    • Play trivia that includes a geography category. Many bars and restaurants have regular trivia nights, and you can use these as an opportunity to flex your geography “muscles.” You might even win money or a gift certificate that could pay for your meal!
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    Use apps and software. There are many apps for smartphones and tablets and software or online program options for learning geography. You can find a list of free geography quiz sites/programs here. Technology opens up the world to you, and if you embrace the opportunities afforded by various technology, you can learn about the geography and culture of many different places in the world in no time!
    • If the program you are using gives you a score, keep trying to improve your score each time you use the program.

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Categories: Geography