Notre Dame professor expands AP statistics platform for students nationwide

Desk Feature

Many high school seniors were looking forward to proms and graduations this year, but many were also busy preparing for the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Offered in a variety of subjects from art to advanced mathematics, the exams are an assessment tool that can result in college credit if students’ scores are high enough. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, students will take the exams online at home. University of Notre Dame psychology professor Ying (Alison) Cheng is determined to help students preparing for the AP statistics test.

Cheng’s AP-CAT platform, developed with funding from the National Science Foundation, has been operational since 2017. AP-CAT is a tool that allows teachers to assess their students’ skills in statistics and gives students the opportunity to get feedback on their performance. After teaching a statistics unit, teachers can choose specific knowledge points within the AP-CAT platform that they want to test their students on and the platform will create a customized exam to assess aptitude in those areas. They can also choose from ready-made quizzes. The platform contains around 800 questions that cover more than 150 knowledge points in AP statistics, about half of which were developed with the assistance of 30 high school teachers in Indiana.

Ying (Alison) Cheng
Ying (Alison) Cheng

What makes AP-CAT unique is its adaptive feature. If teachers choose this feature, the tests will essentially cater to the individual student’s ability level. So, if a student gets a question wrong, the test will move on to an easier question to help the student learn at their level of competence. Conversely, if a student gets a question right, the exam will move on to a more difficult question.

As a quantitative psychologist and statistician by training, Cheng is interested in not only measuring students’ aptitude, but also how other factors affect how they learn.

“We have been working really hard to understand student engagement,” Cheng said. “AP-CAT helps us collect a rich variety of information. There are surveys that ask questions like: How do you learn? Do you always submit your work on time? Someone could easily fake their answers but we have data on how they interact with the system, so we can see if they’re completing tests early, on time or late. We can see if they devote serious effort by looking at different factors like how long they work on each question and whether or not they go over the questions they got wrong. We can compare what they say versus what they do, and this helps us paint a much richer picture of their engagement and study habits.”

Cheng, who is also a fellow at Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, and her team have started to expand the platform for non-AP statistics through a multi-year project funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, and they are considering expanding into other subjects. 

“I teach statistics to Notre Dame undergraduates, so that’s an area that I have a lot of experience with, and statistics is such an important area for STEM, the social sciences and business. It’s a core course for many different disciplines. Enrollment in AP statistics courses has been increasing steadily over the past 10 to 15 years.”

When the pandemic forced officials to close schools, Cheng knew she wanted to open the AP-CAT platform up to students nationwide so they could better prepare for the May 22 exam, which has been switched to an online format. With help from Notre Dame’s Center for Social Science Research, AP-CAT is now available for any high school student in the U.S. and, because the platform is adaptive, students can take tests repeatedly with different questions. Students can register to use the platform at

Originally published by Colleen Sharkey at on May 11, 2020.