AP Statistics Tips and Test Taking Strategies

By April 25, 2019 May 4th, 2019 High School Study Tips
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If you’re reading this article, it means that you are looking for sure-fire ways to get a 5 on your AP Statistics exam.  Never fear, you have come to the right place. In this article, I will provide you with strategies and tips that are working for students just like you.  In short, if you want a higher score, you will love this article.

The AP stats exam is not one that should be taken lightly.  In 2018, the average score was 2.88.  There are several topics covered in this exam, and they include exploring data, sampling & experimentation, predicting patterns and statistical inference. We will give you tips on these topics and more to aid you in getting the 5 you deserve. This AP Statistics tips list is designed to help you defeat your exam.  Let’s get started.

If you’re looking for the best AP Statistics review books, read our guide here.

AP Statistics General Study Tips

General How to Study for AP Statistics Tips

  1. Know how scoring works. Before beginning the exam, make sure that you are familiar with how scoring works and what each section is worth.  The multiple choice section is worth fifty percent of your overall score and lasts 1.5 hours.  It is worth 50 points, with 1.25 points for each question with 40 questions total. The second half of the exam consists of free response questions.  This section includes five short answer questions and one investigative task.  The first five questions are worth 37.5 points, and the last investigative task is worth 12.5 points. This question is worth the most on the exam.
  2. Missing a question is not the end of the world. The AP Statistics exam is not traditional in the grading sense. Getting a question wrong is not as severe of an offense as expected since the tests are curved.  The same question you may have missed may be the same one missed by 90 percent of other students.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the AP Statistics exam formula sheet. On the day of the exam, you will get a list of formulas which is to be used on the AP Statistics exam.  Look at this list before the exam to familiarize yourself with how everything is labeled as well as how to use them.  A copy of the formula sheet is found here.
  4. Don’t try to memorize everything: It’s impossible for you to know everything that could be on the AP Stats exam. Don’t waste your time attempting to remember the whole textbook. Understanding 60% of the material, as well as application, will aid you in getting a good score.
  5. Use YouTube tutorials when needed. If you are struggling with solving a problem and need examples or a video review of concepts, YouTube is the perfect place to find answers.  There are several YouTube reviews and tips videos to aid you while studying. Just searching “AP Statistics” will return a playlist which holds several videos to assist in your AP stats exam review.
  6. Choose a helpful review book. Choosing a good review book is pivotal in your success on the AP Statistics exam.  Many teachers and students recommend Barron’s AP Statistics review book.  It includes information as well as a multitude of practice exams to gauge your progress.  Your AP Statistics review book will be your most trusted resource when studying for the exam.
  7. Create an AP Statistics review packet. This packet should include information on the items you have found to be the most difficult.  It should consist of sample problems with explanations and direct reference to resources.
  8. Engage and stay consistent. One of the most important things you can do to ensure you are prepared for your AP stats exam is to participate and stay focused in the classroom.  This is your yearlong prep course equipped with AP Statistics exam reviews and AP Statistics exam study guides.
  9. Review your notes often. Your class notes can be beneficial when preparing for the AP statistics exam. Make sure that throughout the year you are reviewing them frequently to ensure that you are retaining the information.
  10. Take an AP statistics practice exam. Nothing is going to prepare you more for the exam than practice.  Take at least three practice exams when reviewing for the test and also consistently practice question 6, the investigative task. It will be one of the hardest problems on the exam.
  11. Give yourself time to study. You should not consider your coursework as the only preparation that you need for you the AP statistics exam.  To ensure that you are adequately prepared for the exam you should start studying at least one month before your exam date.
  12. Perform the Diagnostics practice test early. The diagnostics practice test will help you understand what areas you need to practice further.  Take this test first in your exam preparation journey to have a baseline for gaging performance.
  13. Know how scoring will break down. There are four main topics covered on the AP Statistics exam.  These include exploring data, sampling & experimentation, anticipating patterns and statistical inference. Make sure you gage your time based on the percentage of what will be on the exam.
         Exploring Data:Describing patterns and departures from patterns (20% to 30%)
         Sampling and Experimentation:Planning and conducting a study (10% to 15%)
         Anticipating Patterns:Exploring random phenomena using probability and simulation (20% to 30%)
         Statistical Inference:Estimating population parameters and testing hypotheses (30% to 40%)
  14. Make sure your calculator is APPROVED: One of the worst things that can happen is getting to the exam and the proctor letting you know that your calculator is not an approved model.  Before the day of the exam make sure you check the list provided by the college-board to ensure your calculator complies with their standards.
  15. Know how to use your calculator correctly. For most, you will be using the same calculator you have used all year.  However, if you are one of the few who forgets their calculator or chooses to borrow one, make sure you know how to use it. Your calculator is an integral part of this test.  You should know how to use, with confidence, the statistics functions that your calculator offers and how to transpose the answers to match the format on the exam.
  16. Know your vocabulary. As much as we think this is a math exam, it is also a test of vocabulary as well. To get the score, you desire you will need to know quite a few terms for the exam.  This may include phrases like “random sampling,” “hypothesis,” or even “skew.”
  17. Create flashcards to help you study. These cards can be physical or done via quizlet.com.  These should include vocabulary as well as sample questions to ensure that you are adequately retaining the material.
  18. Study the AP Statistics material in groups. Forming a study group is a helpful way to retain material.  Different people process information differently, and it can be useful for someone else to explain an issue you may be having in a new way.  Starting a regular study group also keeps you accountable for reviewing and studying the material.
  19. Create a plan for how you will study. For many of you, AP Statistics isn’t your only AP course.  Therefore, it is vital to ensure that you are spending an adequate amount of time studying for each class.  Create an AP Statistics study plan which outlines dates, goals, and material which you would like to have covered by a particular time.  Also, add in any times for practice exams.
  20. Read your textbook and take notes accordingly. Throughout the year you should be reading your book and creating notes to aid you in studying for the test.  If you missed a chapter or are just looking for better notes, check out this chapter by chapter outline.
  21. Make sure that you can differentiate between mean and median. You should also know the equations for each. The median is simply the median value in the list of all values arranged from smallest to largest or the average of two middle values. There are two means which can be taken, this includes the sample mean, and the population mean.  The formulas for both are as follows: Population mean = μ = ΣX / N Sample mean = x = Σx / n
  22. Review the Type I error, Type II error, and Power concepts in hypothesis testing.
         Type I Error – When it is true, this error rejects the null hypothesis.
         Type II Error –When it is false, the null hypothesis is accepted.
         Power – The power is equivalent to 1 subtracted from the probability of a Type II error. This is the probability that the right decision is made.
  23. Familiarize yourself with frequency tables and bar charts. Tables and graphs will be used throughout the AP Statistics exam.  Practice reading and interpreting them to ensure you are familiar with how to find values as well as how to answer questions based on the graphs.
  24. Know the difference between left and right skew. When distributions have more observations on one side than the other, the graph is interpreted as being skewed.  When observations are more substantial on the left side of the chart, they are skewed right; this also means that the mean will be larger than the median.  When the observations are more substantial on the right, they are skewed left which also means that the mean is smaller than the median.
  25. Mimic your test environment. When working through practice exams, it may be helpful to mimic your test environment.  Seclude yourself in a room with no distractions and time yourself through each portion of the test.  Do this during the completion of the diagnostic test to thoroughly assess your study needs.   
  26. Hire a tutor. If you feel as if you won’t be adequately prepared on your own or are struggling to do well in the AP Statistics course, hire a tutor.  A tutor should be someone who is exceptional at the material and who has already taken the exam and achieved a 5.  This could also be a potential college freshman.
  27. Get a good night’s sleep before the exam. This is the oldest and most common tip you will receive for any AP exam or general test.  It is imperative to be well rested and prepared as the exam will last 3 hours.
  28. Take breaks while studying. Remember to take breaks while studying to ensure that you are retaining the material.  When you are frustrated, it’s easy to become distracted and let your mind wander.  However, remaining focused is critical.  Take small breaks and look away from the material when feeling flustered to reenergize.
  29. Know how to identify a binomial situation. There are four necessities which must be present for a chance binomial to occur.  These requirements are listed below.
         A set number of trials.
         Each trial has two outcomes. These outcomes should be labeled as failure or success.
         The success probability remains constant on each trial.
         Each trial is independent.

AP Statistics Multiple Choice TipsAP Statistics Multiple Choice Tips

  1. Answer all questions. There is no penalty for guessing. Therefore, if you feel that you are running out of time and do not have time to entirely give your all to the questions, pick an answer which you think is the best.
  2. Know your z. Knowing z = 1.645 for 90% confidence intervals and z = 1.96 for 95% confidence intervals will save you a little bit of time.
  3. Use other questions as clues when in doubt. If you are stuck on a question or unsure of a vocabulary term, skim through the other questions for context clues on what the word means or how to solve the problem.
  4. There is no harm in guessing. Do not leave any questions blank.  There is no penalty for guessing.  Use sound reasoning and the process of elimination to select the best answer when you are unsure.
  5. Pay attention to graphs and charts. When taking the exam and answering any practice questions make sure that you are carefully reading any charts and the associated question to ensure you are not being tricked into picking a common answer instead of the correct one.
  6. Highlight important words and phrases. When attempting to answer questions, highlight essential words or phrases which will help you identify the statistical topic as well as the answer.
  7. Your graphing calculator is a tool, not a crutch. Although you will have a calculator present, make sure that you are not relying to heavy on the programming from your calculator.  You should know the material well enough for the calculator to be a helper and nothing more.
  8. Practice with previous AP Statistics Exams. Use previous exams multiple choice questions as practice problems to ensure you are not only doing questions correctly but that you are following the format in which items will be in on the exam.

AP Statistics FRQ TipsAP Statistics Free Response Tips

  1. Show all your work. Make sure that you are showing all your work.  Also, ensure that you are subbing numbers into your formulas instead of merely showing the notations. Show all the steps clearly and accurately. Never copy from your calculator.
  2. Know your definitions. Misuse of jargon will result in the deduction of points from your exam. Be careful about how you are using definitions which can be found in your textbook.  Examples of misused words include ‘biased,’ ‘normal,’ ‘skewed’ or even ‘blocking.’
  3. Describe your graphs or charts with confidence and knowledge. When describing a graph or chart, there are certain things which should be mentioned.  These items include
    1. Scatterplots: Comment of the shape and direction of the figure. You should also provide information concerning the strength of the relationship and patterns or deviation in the data.
    2. Residual plot: You should know how this differs from a scatterplot as well as mentioning the balance of residuals, size, and random distribution.
    3. Shape: Do not confuse symmetric with being equally distributed.
  4. Watch your notation. When using notations in your answers make sure they are being used correctly.  It is better to explain what you mean rather than using shortcuts or notations.  Jumbling the symbols for mean or even x-bar is easy.  Only use symbols of which you are one hundred percent sure.
  5. Practice your free response questions frequently. Put aside some time during a set interval, weekly or bi-weekly, to practice your free response questions. There are several questions available on the College Board website with previous FRQs and their answers.  Use these items to familiarize yourself with the format of the second half of the AP Stats exam.
  6. Frequently practice the investigative question. Number 6 on the AP stats exam is one of the hardest problems.  It is an investigative task.  This question is meant to be solved in thirty minutes.  Aside from being the hardest question on the exam, it requires the most work.  It has several parts and requires the highest skill level. Be sure to write something for each section as partial credit is given.
  7. Know each question’s worth: There are six questions on the free response portion of the exam, and some of the scorings may vary.  The investigative task is worth 25% of your overall free-response score.  One to five account for the other 75% of your score.  This means they are each worth 15%.
  8. What exactly is the “investigative task.”? This question presents you with the material you haven’t explicitly learned and gages your ability to solve it.  You will be provided with background information on the problem.  However, you will need to be able to apply the things you have learned in the past on this question in a new and different way.
  9. Watch your time. Many testers do the questions in numerical order and do not leave enough time for the last question. Jump around as needed and do not leave any questions blank.  Make sure you keep up with time to ensure you get all of your information on the page.
  10. Take as many points as you can get. One thing you should never do is leave a question blank.  There are no point deductions for the wrong answer.  Evaluate the problem, make your best attempt and provide a reasonable solution. You will still receive some points for attempting and even more for the work being shown.
  11. Hypothesis tests are essential to know. Make sure that you are aware of how to test for significance and know when to use z or t statistic, show dof, p values, and confidence intervals.
  12. Explain the reasoning behind your work. Graders are looking to see that you know what you are talking about and not merely guessing.  If you are asked to choose between multiple options, make it clear as to why you wanted the answer that you did and why you did not accept the others.
  13. Annotate the questions as needed. On the exam, you should be reading for understanding.  Try to underline keywords or phrase in the questions to aid you in reaching a correct answer.
  14. Only provide ONE answer. When answering your free response questions never offer more than one solution.  If you do so, the worse answer will be taken and graded.  Make sure your answer is clear and labeled.
  15. Be as neat as possible. Some problems require a variety of steps to answer. Make sure that your work is organized and neatly written.  Make it as easy as possible for your grader to ensure you receive maximum points.
  16. Do not overload your answer with jargon. Only use vocabulary words and phrases of which that you are sure.  Using the biggest or best words will not get you more points on a question.
  17. Understand hypothesis testing. When asked about the hypothesis test make sure you can do one or all of the following to ensure maximum points. 
    1. Clearly, state the hypotheses. This can be done in words or even symbols.
    2. You must choose an accurate inference procedure for the question. You will then need to verify the conditions for using it.
    3. Calculate the P-value and test statistic.
    4. State a conclusion which can be linked to your P value.
  18. It’s okay to make up a value if you don’t have it. If you are struggling with one section of a question and it is needed in a later portion, it is okay to make up a value and keep solving the problem.  However, you should note that you have made up value.  If you are uncomfortable making up a value, clearly explain the steps you would take if you did have the value to solve the problem.
  19. Labeling your answers is essential. Although marking your overall work is necessary, it is just as needed to label the axis of your graphs.  Do not merely copy from your calculator screen.  Labeling proves that you know what you are looking for and how to arrive at it.
  20. Know why you are using a specific formula. Never guess when using a specified formula.  To ensure you are doing the correct steps, make sure you know exactly why you are using a given formula.
  21. Space is not reflective of the length of your answer. The amount of given area in the free-response section of the exam does not directly correlate to the amount you should be writing.  Instead, you should be writing just enough to answer the question and provide any justification needed entirely.
  22. Make sure that you are following all given directions. If your question tells you to “justify” or “explain” an item, make sure that you are as specific as possible. You should also provide examples when able.

Tips from AP Statistics TeachersTips from AP Statistics Teachers

  1. Start with the investigative portion. When beginning the free response part of the test starts with the investigative task.  It is worth a sizable percentage of the part 2 score and should take at least 30 minutes to answers.  The other questions are less complicated to answer and can be done after completion.
  2. Practice investigative questions from the past. Due to the nature of the investigative task or number 6 of the FRQS, it should be practiced often.  This question is meant to test your in-depth knowledge
  3. Check out the list of essential Concepts to know. Click here for a teacher made the AP Statistics exam review sheet to see essential concepts which are not on the AP Stats formula sheet.
  4. Do not use calculator jargon on the exam. Do not use expressions from your calculator when completing your answers. You should be using the terminology which is prevalent in your AP Statistics review book and textbook.  You should also not be writing calculator directions when showing your work. 
  5. Question 1 is the easiest, gage your time accordingly. After you have completed item 6, knock out question one as it is one of the easier FRQ questions.
  6. Be careful when rounding your answers. If you begin rounding your answers too soon on step by step problems, your final solution could be wrong.

Tips from Past AP Statistics StudentsTips from Past AP Statistics Students

  1. Make a calendar or a schedule for when to study. Use the calendar to gauge the time left until your exam as well as often you should be studying.  Prioritize the exams you are most concerned with passing or on which you want to perform the best.  For example, if you plan on majoring in mathematics, your AP Art exam should not take up the most time on your schedule.
  2. Immerse yourself in the material a few days before your exam. If you have the time, spend at least 3-4 days before your AP Statistics exam only studying for that subject.  This way the material is fresh and the main thing on your mind.
  3. Read the AP FRQ responses that receive the highest amounts of points. The college board site offers exam answer keys and sample student responses from previous years.  Make sure that as you are practicing your responses, you are reviewing the responses that received the highest points in preparation for what to expect and what the graders are looking for.
  4. Review Chi-Square Distribution. Make sure that you know how and when to use the Chi-Square Test for Independence, Chi-Square Goodness of Fit Test and chi-square test of homogeneity.
  5. Spend some time reviewing confidence intervals. Confidence intervals are used to define the total of uncertainty connected with a sample estimate of a population.  To correctly show a confidence interval, you will need three pieces of information.  This information includes the level of confidence, the margin of error and the sample statistic.
  6. Take advantage of your resources. Outside of your textbook and the AP exam review book, there are many resources available to you. These include YouTube, KhanAcademy, teacher resources and so much more.  Forums for students taking AP Statistics can also be an excellent resource for interacting with students who have taken the exam in the past or who are in the same boat as you.

Although this AP Stats list provides a multitude of tips and strategies for getting a five on your AP Statistics exam, the most important thing you can do is get a head start on your studying.  It is vital that you understand how to apply many concepts and topics within AP Statistics and explain them with sound reasoning. That level of understanding does not come overnight.

It’s important to remember that although this is a math course, its not all about math.  AP Statistics is a course which aids you in analyzing and synthesizing a variety of data. Although exam season can be overwhelming, this list should not only assist you in what to study but how to review as well for the AP Statistics exam.

Did you find this helpful? If you’re looking for the best AP Statistics review books, be sure to check out our guide here.


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