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How to survive your Statistics Course

Date:13 April 2018
Statistics: #1 moodkiller
Statistics: #1 moodkiller

There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and if you’re studying at the University of Groningen, your first-year statistics course. Love it or hate it (anyone in the first category? Report to your local medical research centre - they’ll want your DNA), there’s no escaping statistics. Yours truly also had the pleasure of taking a statistics exam (I still get war flashbacks to the Aletta Jacobshal). Here are some tips I found helpful to keep my head from exploding and to pass the exam (with or without flying colours). Fun fact to start with: 65% of statistics you see online are made up on the spot.

Knowing statistics makes you smarter

Despite its infamous reputation, a basic knowledge of statistics is something that’ll help you in a lot of ways in life not only during your studies. Statistics will help you see through insurance scams, get over your fear of flying, tell you when to bring your raincoat and (most importantly!) you’ll be able to impress your date with your intelligence. They’ll also help you throughout your career, whether you’re going in research or not.

Stay calm and study on

Most students worry so much about their statistics courses that it gets in the way of actually studying for them. Take the time to relax after a study session and don’t make your weekend 80% statistics (instead, check our weekly blog for what you should be doing in the weekend). Calm down and take a breath - you’re going to get through this.

You’re in this together

You’re not the only person in your statistics course, so you’re not the only one struggling to get through math that somehow has more letters than numbers. Two understand more than one, so study together with your classmates. Bonus: trash talking statistics is no fun if you’re on your own.

Statistics is going to take a lot of your time, whether you like it or not.

If you are used to be able to pass courses with minimal effort, statistics will be the cold shower that’ll cruelly wake you up from your sweet dreams. One of the reasons statistics has the reputation it has is that many of us simply underestimate the time they’ll need to put in. Be prepared to put in the time (and do it every week, don’t make statistics your full-time job starting ten days before the exam - you’ll hate yourself for it) and you’ll find that statistics is not as bad as everyone says.

Statistics make simple things seem complicated

Statistical problems seem like the most complicated thing in the world when you first encounter them (except my girlfriend maybe). The big secret here? Every problem is a big pile of simple calculations. Learn to recognize the different parts of a problem (refer to tip 2 and 4 for the best way to do this) and you’ll have a much easier time solving it.

Don’t be afraid to look for help online

Theoretically, your book and professor explain everything you need to know. In practice, parts of my book kept looking like gibberish no matter how many times I went over them. Luckily, you can find hundreds of online tutorials that explain all the basics (and not-so-basics) in really clear and understandable ways. Youtube is now your best friend. Also, depending on your faculty, there may be extra tutoring groups available for statistics. It’s no shame to use them!

Use a tutor

Depending on your faculty, you may be able to join a study group specifically for statistics, or, even better, use the services of a statistics tutor. If you’re having trouble, grab those opportunities, they can be lifesavers. And of course, asking your professor for help is always an option - they definitely don't want to see your face three semesters in a row.

Your statistics book is your friend (at least until you pass the exam).

For most statistics exams, you’re not required to remember all the formulas by heart. Instead, they’ll let you take the book with you to the exam. Come exam time, find the problems you have to solve in your book (and if you’ve seen the size of a statistics book, you know that they will have an example similar to your exam problem), and repeat every step the book tells you. After you’ve passed the course, feel free to burn your book (or sell it a freshman next year for a quick buck).

After the exam, you’ll most likely never do so much statistics in so short of a time ever again.

Statistically speaking, your statistics course is the most statistics you’ll ever do in the span of two-and-a-half months. So don’t worry if statistics isn’t your favourite subject - if you passed, you’ve been through the worst of it. Unless your ambition is a career in research, but if you really don’t like statistics you should probably rethink that ambition.

Got extra tips? Let me know in the comments.


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