It’s good to know the lay of the land, both when you’re trying to find your way around an unfamiliar city or when you’re trying to locate Bangladesh on a map. But geography just isn’t a strong suit for many people—many even think it isn’t very useful in the first place.

Here at Brainscape, we couldn’t disagree more, which is why we’ve written up several reasons to study geography in the past. Geography is important, but most people don’t have a good grounding in it. And we get it: Ms. Smith's geography class didn't exactly keep you on the edge of your seat.

We're here for you. Brainscape is the most effective way to learn—even for geography. Be sure to check out our online Geography flashcards if you are serious about refreshing your knowledge in the most efficient web & mobile fashion possible.

Or, if you want to do it the old fashioned way, you can just check out these top 5 principles for learning geography fast. This is a quick and dirty set of tips to get on your geography game.

How to quickly learn geography basics

Woman looking at map, geography facts
Learn geography facts quickly with these five principles.

1. Start with the continents

When you’re talking about geography, you need to start with the big things: continents. The major landmasses of this planet are split up into continents. Knowing the names and locations of these is the first step in learning geography. Quick: can you name all 7 continents?

  1. North America
  2. South America
  3. Africa
  4. Europe
  5. Asia
  6. Australasia
  7. Antarctica

Don’t forget that the Arctic isn’t a continent—there isn’t any land under that ice, just ocean (and the ice might not be around for long). If you don’t know your continents, study up! Get a good globe or atlas (for this type of learning, non-digital tools might be the best), and spend some time just browsing the planet. Learn the shape of the landscape and refer back to those continent names frequently until you have them down.

Also, pro tip: remember not to refer to Africa as a country! It's a continent.

2. Learn the biggest bodies of water

The next step in learning geography is to focus on the water. Start with the oceans. What’s the nearest ocean to where you live? Work backwards from there. What major rivers drain into that ocean? Where do those rivers come from? What sort of landscapes do those rivers flow through?

Follow this chain, and you’ll find a vast spiderweb of waterways that stretches across the whole planet. Water is a necessity for life, and that’s reflected in the landscape and in human history. Cities are always built near a good fresh water supply (though that hasn't worked out too well for Rio). And lush forests and wetlands form havens for wildlife around sources of water.

Water shapes the landscape itself through erosion, and determines where humans and non-humans exist. Study the bodies of water of the world, and you will know much about the place itself.

3. Don’t sweat the small countries too much

When you’re studying geography—especially if you’re a beginner—don’t worry about national borders too much. There are around 196 countries in the world, and memorizing every single one is a BIG challenge. Instead, focus on the larger and more news-making countries to start, and spend your deliberate learning energies on the more important geography facts outlined above.

Only once you’ve mastered the landscape itself should you start worrying more about political boundaries. As a bonus, you’re going to have an easier time with political boundaries once you know the landscape: many political boundaries fall along the lines of rivers, mountain ranges, or other natural features.

4. Use history and current events to make it stick

As we've discussed before, knowing history and current events is intimately intertwined with geography. One great way to make your geographic knowledge stick is to make linkages between news you come across and the landscapes on which it takes (or took) place. Whenever you learn a new thing, head to a map and put it in physical context. This trick alone will be a big step towards becoming proficient as a geographer.

5. Visualize

Our penultimate tip revolves around visualization, a powerful mental technique used by everyone from elite athletes to test takers. But how does it relate to geography? Well, we recommend that when learning about a place, you visualize it.

What does the landscape look like? Is it desert? Forest? Meadow? Mountains? Are there cities nearby? Rivers? What would it be like to travel across the landscape? Is the ocean nearby? What do the beaches look like? These thought experiments can be easily helped along using pictures on the internet, and can help solidify a vision of a place.

While this is no substitute for actually visiting, it’s a great method for consolidating your learning into memory.

6. Study effectively

Last but not least, the best way to learn geography facts is to study effectively! Use tools, like Brainscape, that are designed to get you to learn quickly.

Brainscape offers a wide range of online geography flashcards, which you can study using spaced repetition in any web browser or mobile device. You can also study just the most important few dozen key countries and capitals, along with other key 'common sense' facts that we have condensed across over two dozen subjects, in our Knowledge Rehab collection. It's Brainscape's free service to create more well-rounded people and a more educated world.

And for more study advice in general, check out our complete guide to how to study more efficiently with LESS total effort. Best of luck in your learning journey!