AP Statistics is a popular class to take in high school. Many college majors require students to complete a statistics course, and taking it in high school frees up a space in your college schedule. But is this the best choice to make? Is AP Statistics hard? Will you be able to manage the class?
In this guide, we'll look at data, course material, and student perceptions to give you a clear idea of the difficulty level of the AP Statistics class and exam. We'll also go over tips for figuring out how challenging AP Statistics will likely be for you based on three key factors.
2020 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be held remotely, and information about how that will work is still evolving. Stay up to date with the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what this means for you with our AP COVID-19 FAQ article.
What Factors Go Into Determining the Difficulty of an AP Class?
How do we determine AP Statistics difficulty? There are five factors to consider to get an accurate estimate of how hard AP Stats is.
#1: Passing Rate
As you likely know, AP exams are scored from 0 to 5, with 3 being the passing baseline. The number of students who score a 3 or above on the AP exam can help show how difficult the class is. If many students earn passing scores, it can mean that the class is less challenging. It may also mean, however, that the class attracts higher-achieving students who are well-prepared and tend to do better on tests across the board. For that reason, we also consider other factors, such as perceptions of students and the content of the exam.
#2: Percentage of Students Who Earn a 5
Analyzing what percentage of students earn a 5 on the exam can also help us determine how difficult the class is. Many students may pass an AP exam, but if only a small percentage earns a 5, it may mean that it’s difficult to truly master the course material.
#3: Content Difficulty
The actual content of the AP class is, of course, crucial to determining its difficulty. Even if many students pass an AP exam, if they struggle in the class due to the workload or material covered, the AP course may still be considered difficult.
#4: How Students Perceive the Class
How challenging students perceive the class to be is another key consideration. As mentioned earlier, AP exams with high pass rates and 5 rates can be difficult courses that simply attract very hard-working students. Even if the students ace the exam, that doesn’t necessarily mean they found it to be an easy class. Student feedback can give us a different, and more accurate, perspective of the difficulty of an AP class.
#5: What Year Students Take the Class
This is another factor that impacts perceptions of the class and exam. If students typically take the AP class earlier in high school, they're more likely to say that it was difficult. If they take it during junior or senior year, they're more likely to feel comfortable with the material since they’ve gotten used to the workload in high school and may have already taken other AP classes.
In the next section, we’ll go through each of these factors for both the AP Statistics class and exam to give you a better idea of their overall difficulty level.
What Does the Data Say About AP Statistics?
Since we’re discussing AP Statistics, it makes sense to analyze some stats about the class and exam (consider it preparation if you do decide to take the class). In 2019, 59.7% of students who took the AP Statistics exam passed it, and 14.7% earned a 5. Here’s the breakdown of percentages for each score:
% who earned that score
What does the data show about AP Statistics difficulty? Compared to other AP exams, AP Stats’ passing rate is below average (34 exams have higher pass rates, 12 have lower pass rates), and its 5 rate is smack dab in the middle of the 5 rates of all the other AP exams. The average score on the AP Statistics exam is 2.87, which is below the passing threshold. 35 exams had a higher average score, and 11 had a lower average score.
Looking at this data alone, it seems that the AP Stats exam is more difficult than the average AP class. But is AP Stats hard?
Easier AP tests can actually sometimes have lower passing rates because these classes attract less motivated students who don't always prepare thoroughly. Very popular AP tests can also have low pass rates because the number of students taking the test has increased rapidly, but their average level of preparation has declined due to the uneven quality of AP classes. On the other hand, sometimes AP tests with high pass rates are actually more difficult. Since the subjects themselves are challenging (and have a reputation for it), these classes only attract the most motivated, well-prepared students.
So is AP Statistics hard? Let’s take some more information into consideration before we answer that question.
Is the AP Statistics Content Difficult?
AP Stats covers four main areas: exploring data, sampling and experimentation, anticipating patterns, and statistical inference. The AP exam itself consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and six free-response questions, which is about on par with the format of other math and science AP exams.
The content covered in AP Statistics is generally considered easier and more manageable than that of the two AP Calculus exams. Many students have learned some statistical concepts in previous math classes, and they often find the concepts easier to understand than other math subjects such as calculus or geometry. Additionally, not as much material is covered in AP Statistics as there is in exams such as AP Biology and AP Calculus, so students have more time to feel comfortable with topics and prevent being overwhelmed by the workload.
However, students do still need to have a strong grasp of statistical concepts and will need to prove those skills on the exam. It’s not a memorization-heavy exam like AP Psychology; you need to understand the mathematical concepts you learn in class in order to do well on the exam.
Do Students Think AP Statistics Is Hard?
What do students who actually take AP Statistics think of the class? The general consensus, gathered from student forums on sites like College Confidential and Reddit, is that AP Statistics is a pretty manageable class, but you still need to put in work and understand the concepts to do well on the AP exam.
Students found it to be less intensive than most other math and science AP classes. Many found the concepts covered in the AP Stats to be easier to understand than many of those they studied in other math classes. However, some students who excelled in other math classes sometimes struggled with the class because it wasn’t a “typical” math class. There is a lot more emphasis on data comprehension and analysis and less on solving challenging equations. There is also more memorization required than for other AP math classes, although AP Stats still isn’t considered a memorization-heavy AP class overall.
Some students also stated that many of those who did poorly in the class and on the AP exam were seniors who didn’t want to take AP Calculus and were expecting AP Statistics to be an “easy” alternative.
Overall, most of the students who took the class found the AP Statistics difficulty to be fairly average for an AP class. It’s definitely not a class you can coast through, but if you put in the time to learn the concepts, most people didn’t find the class or the exam overwhelming or overly difficult to do well in.
Will AP Statistics Be Hard for You? 3 Tips for Finding Out
Because all schools and students are different, it’s difficult to estimate how hard AP Statistics will be for you specifically. To figure out whether the class will be challenging for you personally, you'll need to do the following.
#1: Gather Opinions From Others
The best way to learn what AP Statistics is like at your school is to talk to people who are familiar with the class or have already taken it. If you know students who have already taken AP Statistics, ask them what they thought about the class, how happy they were with the teacher, and how challenging they found the AP exam to be. Try to ask multiple people to get the most accurate information possible.
You can also speak with your current math teacher. Since they know your academic abilities, they should be able to give you an accurate idea of how hard AP Stats will be for you. You can also speak to the current AP Stats teacher and ask how difficult students typically find the class and how well they score on the exam.
Similarly, you can also speak to your guidance counselor. They're probably very familiar with the grades that students earn in AP Stats and how students have performed on the AP exam in years past. They might also be able to give you an idea of how challenging the class will be for you based on the grades you've earned so far in high school.
#2: Consider Your Academic Strengths and Weaknesses
While many people are quick to declare that they’re not “math” people, take some time to consider your strengths and weaknesses in school before you register for AP Statistics. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy math, are you able to do well in your math classes? When you studied statistics previously, did it seem interesting and fairly easy to understand? How challenging and time-consuming have you found your other high school math classes?
If you’ve often found yourself struggling in previous math classes, AP Statistics may be quite challenging for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy and tend to do well in math without too much effort, you may find the class easier than most other people.
However, it’s important to remember that statistics covers different topics than the standard algebra-geometry-calculus course path. Many people find it to be quite different from other math classes they’ve taken, so we recommend reviewing the course topics and trying a few sample AP Stats questions to get a taste of what the class will be like.
#3: Take Your Schedule into Account
The difficulty of the rest of your schedule can greatly affect how difficult you find AP Statistics. Even if you have a great teacher and a knack for statistics, if your schedule is loaded down with other AP or high-level classes, and perhaps you have time consuming extracurriculars after school as well, you may struggle to devote enough time to AP Statistics.
Some students also are tempted to take AP Statistics at the same time they take other math-intensive courses, such as AP Calculus or AP Physics. Be aware that any of these classes on their own can be difficult, and if you take more than one at the same time, you could be spending a lot of time working through challenging math problems.
On the other hand, if you think your schedule is manageable, you may find AP Statistics easier than expected because you’ll have time to reread sections of the book you didn’t understand and take your time working through homework assignments.
Summary: So Is AP Statistics Hard?
Now that we’ve covered all the information, what is our conclusion? Is AP Stats hard? Is AP Statistics easy? Just how hard is AP Stats? Generally, you can expect AP Statistics to be an average-difficulty AP class, and likely the easiest of the AP math classes. It’s not a class where you can skate by without studying or with just some basic memorization, but if you put in the effort to understand the material, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty passing both the exam and the class.
Most people who struggle with AP Statistics either expected the class to be very easy and weren’t prepared to put work into it, or they weren’t used to a math class having such an emphasis on data analysis and comprehension. Now that you know what to expect, you’re prepared to succeed in AP Stats!
Want to know more about what you'll learn in AP Statistics? Check out our complete guide to the AP Statistics class and exam for everything you need to know.
Wondering which other math classes you should take besides statistics? Math is often the trickiest subject to choose classes for, but our guide will help you figure out exactly which math classes to take for each year of high school.
A prep book can be one of your best study resources for the AP Stats exam. But which prep book should you choose? Check out our guide to AP Stats prep books to learn which is the best and which you should avoid.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.