Here are some geography questions that students in fourth, eighth and twelfth grades were asked on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Program.

The newly released test results were considered disappointing: Fewer than one-third of the nation’s fourth, eighth and twelfth graders were proficient in the subject.

The geography questions (and questions in other subjects assessed by NAEP) are on NAEP’s Questions Tool, which you can find here. Below are the answers and the percentages of students who gave the correct answer.

1) Eighth grade. Difficulty: Hard

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) lowered trade barriers between:

a) France, Germany, and the United States

b) Brazil, Chile, and the United States

c) Japan, Mexico, and the United States

d) Canada, Mexico, and the United States

2) Fourth grade. Difficulty: Medium

The United States sells wheat to other countries and buys coffee from other countries. One reason for this could be that:

a) because of its climate the United States can grow some crops but not others

b) the United States cannot grow enough food for its own people

c) people in the United States like coffee better than wheat

d) wheat is more expensive than coffee

3) Twelfth grade. Difficulty: Easy

Worldwide, the greatest number of people who emigrate from one country to another today do so because they:

a) believe that moving will help them economically

b) believe that moving will give them greater religious freedom

c) like the climate better in their new country

d) have been expelled from their native countries

4) Fourth grade. Difficulty: Medium

When people leave the country where they were born to live in another country, it is called:

a) location

b) transportation

c) emigration

d) communication

5) Eighth grade. Difficulty: Hard

Which of the following is an accurate statement about the American Southwest?

a) Alternating areas of dense shrubbery and sand dunes often make travel difficult.

b) Arid conditions make access to water an important public issue.

c) Generally fair weather means that most people rely on solar energy in their homes and businesses.

d) Easy access to Mexico has led to a strong manufacturing sector.

6) Twelfth grade. Difficulty:

Advances in irrigation technology have enabled people to transform deserts into productive agricultural land. Failure to manage irrigation properly can, however, result in damage to the topsoil and a decrease in productivity.

The damage to soil discussed in the passage above is:

a) hydration, in which soil becomes waterlogged and impossible to farm

b) mineralization, in which soil becomes rocky and hard to work

c) salinization, in which salts accumulate in the upper levels of the soil

d) deforestation, in which soil systems become unstable when deprived of the root systems of large trees

7) Fourth grade. Difficulty: Hard

A hurricane has destroyed many of the banana plantations in Central America. What change would people most likely see in supermarkets in the United States as a result of the hurricane?

a) There would be no bananas available.

b) Prices of most fresh fruits would go down.

c) Prices of bananas would go up.

d) Supermarkets would sell more vegetables.

8) Eighth grade. Difficulty: Hard

What are the conditions that make the tundra difficult for human settlement? _______________________________________

(This question asks for an open response. See below for acceptable answers).

9) Twelfth grade. Difficulty: Hard

Mexico City is an example of runaway urban growth. Every day an estimated average of 1,700 people move there from villages in the countryside. In addition, more than 1,000 babies are born in the city daily. Some geographers think that as many as 50 million people will live there by the year 2000. Thousands of families survive on the equivalent of a few dollars a day, and most members of these families have no prospects for steady jobs or much improvement in the physical quality of their lives. However, regardless of the hardship and the poverty, people continue to pour into Mexico City.

Give two reasons why people continue to move to Mexico City despite the difficult living conditions. ________________________________

(This question asks for an open response. See below for acceptance answers.)

10) Eighth grade. Difficulty: Medium:

The Great Lakes were formed primarily as a result of:

a) plate tectonic movement

b) the action of glaciers

c) the construction of dams

d) runoff from mountains


1) d. 40 percent of eighth graders gave correct answer

2) a. 55 percent of fourth graders gave correct answer

3) a. 82 percent of twelfth graders gave correct answer

4) c. 46 percent of fourth graders gave correct answer

5) b. 33 percent of eighth graders gave correct answer

6) c. 17 percent of twelfth graders gave correct answer

7) c. 38 percent of fourth graders gave correct answer

8) An answer marked complete include these factors: it is very cold, there is a short growing season, permanent layer of ice makes farming difficult. An answer marked partial said that the tundra is very cold and isolated. Twelve percent of eighth graders gave a response considered complete.

9) An answer marked complete said Mexico City offered health services and educational institutions. Sixteen percent of twelfth graders gave an answer considered complete.

10) b. 41 percent of eighth graders gave correct answer


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