The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship


Document Type

Research Study

Publication Date

Spring 2018


The following report is an analysis of undergraduate student course scores from 2013 to 2017 at St. Cloud State University (SCSU). The goal of this study was to create a course difficulty ranking for each class taken as SCSU, and an interactive tool for students to predict the difficulty of their course load.

Three techniques for measuring course difficulty were used. After reviewing the data and researching previous studies that predicted course difficulty, DFW rate was chosen first for the difficulty prediction scale. DFW rate is the number of student grades that equaled D, F, or W divided by the number of all grades. Next, average GPA rate for each course was generated. Last, a scale was created by the level of the course number, whereby 400 level courses would be given a higher difficulty rating than 100, 200, or 300-level courses. Each measure was converted into a ten-point difficulty scale from highest to lowest. The average of these three 10-point scales gives an overall score, called “Overall Ranking Score,” which was used to develop the prediction tool.

After the ranking tool was designed in Excel, it was applied to the dataset of 2,233 classes. The data was sorted by overall ranking score for each class. The prediction tool to estimate course difficulty was created using the “VLOOKUP” function in Microsoft Excel. It asks the user to enter up to ten different courses, and returns an average ranking based on the scores for each class. This tool will hopefully be used by incoming freshmen looking to estimate how difficult their course load will be.

The difficulty tool was used to identify the most difficult courses and subject areas at St. Cloud State. Across the entire data set, the STEM major subject areas of Math, Chemistry, and Physics were among the 5 most difficult according to my overall ranking score. However, the hardest subject overall was History. This might be explained by the higher number of upper level courses in the field. The hardest courses overall in the data set were mostly 300 and 400 level courses; yet one 200-level math course, Math 221, made it into the top five hardest courses.


Edited by Shaya Kraut