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How is College Intro Stats Different from AP Stats?

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Erica Chauvet is a Statistics Professor at Waynesburg University and a former high school AP Statistics teacher. She is on the writing team for both The Practice of Statistics and Statistics and Probability with Applications. Erica also works as a freelance writer for several other curriculum companies. She has been an AP Statistics Exam reader for the past 13 years where she enjoys hosting the 1.96-mile 95% Confidence (Prediction) Fun Run as well as the highly anticipated Funstravaganza (closing ceremonies), among other social events.

I have had the honor of teaching AP Stats for 12 years and College Intro Stats for 12 semesters. I love both environments, but for very different reasons.

What is it like to teach College Intro Stats?

Imagine not having to run to the bathroom in the 4-5 minutes you have between classes. Imagine having the flexibility to set your own curriculum. Imagine not having the pressure of motivating your students to score well on the exam. No parent emails. No lesson plans to submit. Sounds, like a dream, doesn’t it? Also imagine only seeing your students 2 or 3 days per week for 15 weeks and then they are on to the next adventure. You can only scratch the surface on the topics because you want to make sure you hit all the basics. Instead of spending 180 days × about 40 minutes per day = about 120 hours with your students you have less than 1/3 of that time. Choices need to be made because you cannot do it all.

How does College Stats differ from AP Stats?

They differ a lot! In college we are not governed by the almighty College Board Course and Exam Description, so every professor can and may have a different way of doing things. I see my students 2 days a week, 75-minute classes, for 15 weeks. I use the popular AP Stats book The Practice of Statistics (TPS) 6th edition Classic. Here’s a glimpse of the pace and depth which my students learn Intro Stats:

Week 1: Chapter 1 of TPS – Focus: graphical displays and numerical summaries. We don’t have time for segmented bar charts and relationships within two-way tables.

Week 2: Chapter 2 of TPS – Focus: Uniform and Normal distributions. We do not go over assessing normality.

Week 3: Review Chapter 1-2 and Test on Chapters 1-2

Week 4: Chapter 3 of TPS – Focus: Scatterplots, correlation, regression. We skip Section 3.3 which covers nonlinear relationships.

Week 5: Chapter 4 of TPS – All of it. The students struggle to grasp all of these concepts in two class periods.

Week 6: Review of Chapter 3-4 and Test on Chapters 3-4.

Week 7: Chapter 7 of TPS – Sampling Distributions. Yes, you read that right. We skip Chapters 5 and 6. I teach an Intro Statistics course, not a probability and statistics course. So, we skip right over Chapters 5 and 6. This means I have to take extra care when explaining the 10% condition for inference.

Week 8: Chapter 8 and 9 of TPS – Confidence intervals for a population proportion and a population mean…just the one sample inference procedures. Each of these topics is covered in one class period.

Week 9: Review of Chapter 7, 8, and 9 and Test on Chapters 7, 8, and 9.

Week 10: Chapter 10/11 of TPS – Significance Test for a population proportion and a population mean

Week 11: All of the two sample/group inference procedures – Confidence interval and a significance test for a difference in two population proportions and a confidence interval and a significance test for a difference in two population means (as well as paired inference procedures).

Week 12: Review of Chapter 10-11 and Test on Chapters 10-11

Week 13: Chapter 12 of TPS – Just the chi-squared procedures

Week 14: Cumulative Review of the entire semester

Week 15: Final Exams

What are the philosophical differences in the way stats is taught in college vs. in high school?

When I taught AP Stats, I loved doing projects with my students. I would tend to spend 2-3 weeks per chapter, which left time for really making sure that the students understood the material in great depth. My students were grouped by 4’s and they would complete 4 FRQ’s together as a group every chapter. I included a “FRAPPY” day in my plans for each chapter as well as a project/activity day. The goal was mastery of the subject…to fully grasp the concepts and be able to apply them to new and interesting scenarios.

I dedicated one of the boards in my room to honoring my “StatMasters” and “Calcaholics” …those who would get a perfect on a Chapter Test. I would give those students a large $100 bill and they would hoard them like they were real money. At the end of the year I would crown the “Ultimate StatMaster”. This award went to the student with the most perfect scores. I would photoshop their face on a large $100 bill and they would creatively pose for their picture to be added to my “Wall of Fame”, which had pictures of all the past StatMasters. And to motivate those who couldn’t quite get a perfect score all students that got an A got to pick from my awesome sticker collection. It’s amazing how my high school students would rush into the room after test day to see if they would get to pick a sticker.

These fun motivational games and the activities we did together in class did more than solidify their stats knowledge. It helped me build relationships with the kids.

In college, my kiddos come in, sit down, and play on their phones, not even really talking to each other, until it is time for class to start. They are super polite, very mannerly, and very respectful…almost to the point of being too timid to engage. I am very casual in my teaching style and they do open up when they realize I am not stuffy and serious, but some never quite get there and some will not speak the entire semester unless I specifically approach or address them.

To help my college students relax about asking me questions, I post my cell in their syllabus. I tell them from the first day that they have something very special in my class…access to 24-7 anonymous “text support”. I let them know that I have my text alerts shut off, and that if they have any questions while they are completing their course work that I would like them to send me a picture of the problem and ask their question. I don’t know any of their phone numbers, so I don’t know who is asking the question! So, they do not need to feel shy about asking me questions when they need help. And because my phone makes no sounds, I assure them that it is ok to text me any time of the day or night.

I would NOT do this for my high school kids!!! But for my college kids…this works beautifully.

Do you think a score of 3 or higher is deserving of college credit?

In addition to having 12 years of experience teaching AP Stats (and AP Calc) and 12 semesters of experience teaching college Intro Stats, I also have 13 years of experience as a Reader. (Darn…so close to 12!!!)

The College Board got it right when they created these descriptions:

AP Exam Score Recommendation

5 Extremely well qualified

4 Very well qualified

3 Qualified

2 Possibly qualified

1 No recommendation

I can think of various high school students I have had over the years who received each of these AP Stats scores. My high school students who earned 5’s would be utterly bored in my Intro Stats class. They would already know it all and at a much deeper level. My high school students who earned 4’s would probably find my Intro Stats class a good review and maybe the concepts would sink in a bit deeper or maybe they would understand some concepts in new ways. My high school students who earned 3’s typically also had D’s or C’s in my AP Class. They would do fine in my Intro Stats class as long as they applied themselves. They are bright enough, but their motivation would really make a big difference. I would recommend that a student who earns a 3 on the AP Exam to take Intro Stats in college, especially if it would be helpful for their major. Students who earn a 2 or 1 on the AP Exam typically had D’s or F’s in my AP Class and would need to take Intro Stats in college if they needed it for their major.

To my surprise, over the last 6 years the vast majority of my students continue to have no experience with statistics before taking my Intro Stats class. I typically have about 1-2 students in each class (out of 20) who took AP Stats in high school and I typically have about 1-2 students in each class who took a semester-long statistics course in high school. My students tend to not be as mathematically minded as my AP Statistics students are. They tend to be afraid to be in a math course and they sometimes struggle with “simple” things like entering expressions in their calculators.

I’m fortunate to have experience teaching high school (AP Stats), college (Intro Stats), and to have experience reading AP Exams. High school teachers, you have a unique opportunity to really draw your students into the fun and engaging world of Statistics. We college professors are grateful for all you do to pour into your students and build a love for statistics in your students that will last beyond the time the students spend with you! Keep on, keeping on! You got this!

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