Mean means and modish modes
October 20, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Statistics! I need to use them at work, but over the past few years numbers seem to make my head spin. Any tips for parsing them? Any recommended books for someone who only scraped a C at GCSE Maths?

I often need to look at data - averages, percentages, sales figures, that kind of thing - to assess claims for my job. I think I've just stopped feeling confident with numbers - I struggle to add, my brain shuts down when I play boardgames that involve a lot of maths (Race for the Galaxy being a good example - the very similar San Juan is easy to me) and I even get nervous when I do crafts that involve counting rows or stitches. I have no idea why this is - I've struggled with a few cognitive tasks since a period of illness a few years ago - but I do worry when it affects my work.

I open a spreadsheet and it's like my brain flashes up a 'DOES NOT COMPUTE' message. Sometimes this is because the figures I need to see are necessarily complicated, but often I feel I should be able to comprehend this information as easily as text but just can't.

I have wondered about taking GCSE Statistics but this course doesn't seem to be available to adults who work full-time. I didn't enjoy maths at school which I think made competency all the harder, but I'm at the point now where my skills are becoming a sticking point. Accuracy is vital for my job so I want to improve and help myself as much as possible. Any advice?
posted by mippy to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't really an answer, but I just have to point out that it's World Statistics Day! Your question is very well-timed. There may be a local statistics event in your area; check the link.
posted by amro at 8:22 AM on October 20, 2010

I have wondered about taking GCSE Statistics but this course doesn't seem to be available to adults who work full-time.

It wouldn't be the same as actually being taught the course, but you could buy a GCSE textbook off Amazon. There is probably somewhere you can get mock/past exam papers online, or maybe you can contact your local school/adult education place and they will supply you with some.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:27 AM on October 20, 2010

Given the stage you're at and your anxiety, I think the Khan Academy videos (free!) are a better bet than a book or evening course. When you don't quite get something, you can play it again and again. He also has exercises that I find helpful.

I'd link but I'm on my BlackBerry and it's easy to Google him.
posted by SMPA at 9:10 AM on October 20, 2010

I bought The Complete Idiot's Guide to Statistics when I had to learn some stats for work, and it was great. After you read the first chapter or two, it's very easy to just use the book as a reference and read the parts you need when you need them.

Actually, I don't think I've ever read a bad "Idiot's" or "Dummies" book. Not sure what that makes me...
posted by hammurderer at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2010

I think just for the math anxiety portion of this issue you might have a couple of D Huff books on hand How To Figure It and the inestimable How to Lie with Statistics. How To Figure is a pick up and look at the index kind of book for when you have a question about something mathematical. How To Lie will bring you up to speed on what most forms of statistics are good for, whether they're a lie or a damned lie to paraphrase Mark Twain.
posted by ptm at 5:18 PM on October 20, 2010

From your description, I don't think that GCSE statistics will help you. It's sounds more like you are looking for numeracy skills. Your local FE college might be able to help you out there. For example, something like an appropriate level of key skills numeracy might be good, or even GCSE Maths (I know you have the qualification, but revisiting the material might help.)

Alternatively, have you thought about an Excel course? It might give you more confidence, which it sounds like you need.

Finally, what about a few sessions with a tutor, the kind that help kids with GCSE and A-Level Maths. With 1-1 help you can focus on the problems that you're having rather than a general course which might not all be relevant. This is probably a good time to look for one as we're still a way off from GCSE cramming season. I suspect they cost about £15-£20 a session.
posted by plonkee at 11:30 AM on October 21, 2010

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