Wyzant (say: Wise Ant, I think), a marketplace that matches up tutors and students for in-person and online study sessions, has done some research into how people feel about working with numbers.
They surveyed 235 students who recently struggled with statistics. Only 5.5% of these students were pursuing a career in a maths-related field, and many called out business or project management as a potential career path.
That’s a lot of people who don’t intend to use maths as their ‘full time’ day job who are using statistics as part of their course and possibly their future job. Nearly 45% of the students said, “I’m not a maths person,” which is the answer I would have given too. If you hold that view about yourself, you’re creating more stress, anxiety and mystery around the basics of statistics.
What People Struggle With
70% of all the students struggled with the same two statistics concepts, hypothesis testing and probability.
Personally I don’t use hypothesis testing in my project management work, but I’m sure understanding it is essential in some industries. It hasn’t been since university that I’ve had to think about hypotheses, thankfully. My days of having to understand T-tests and ANOVA are hopefully long gone… if I ever truly understood them at all.
Probability, though – we’re all exposed to that as a function of risk management. It’s often so simplified though that risk assessments are subjective: “I think that my risk is not likely, likely, quite likely, almost definitely going to happen.”
Wyzant worked with expert tutors in the field of statistics to identify the concepts and break them down in ways we can all understand. The article quotes PhD candidate, Brian, who tutors university students in stats:
“Typically, when students are introduced to the normal distribution, they’re given a curve and told probability is the area under the curve. But this is still confusing.”
He says it’s easier to think of probability if you break up the area under the curve into 100 squares, each equal in size.
“If you can look at the distribution and say each of these squares is equal to 1% probability, you can just count the squares to develop good intuition about what the normal distribution is and what it means.”
Image credit: Wyzant
I can see how thinking about probability in this way would make it clearer. The bell curve of a normal distribution is all well and good but blocks really call out the way that the 100% is made up and how it spreads out across the distribution.
What do you think?
The website has some helpful guides for common statistics and probability concepts as well.
You might also find this book interesting: Math for Grownups. I certainly found it helpful!