You don’t need to be an ace in mathematics to learn statistics, and nowadays pocket calculators and computer programs can do much of the calculation drudgery for you. However, a good understanding of how numbers work, including the basic laws of arithmetic and algebra, is a prerequisite to being able to reason statistically. Although anyone can learn to churn out calculations, if you don’t understand the meaning of the numbers thus produced, your efforts can be useless or counterproductive. Besides, it’s always more fun to understand what you are doing, and if you truly understand numbers and can explain them to others, you’ll find you have a great advantage over other candidates, whether in school or at work.

If the math you learned in school has faded to a distant memory, don’t worry; you have lots of company! Even if you did well in high school algebra, a brief review of the basic concepts can ease your path into statistics, and working through some elementary problems will help sharpen your mind before you take on more complex calculations. Running through simple calculations is also a good way to get acquainted with a new calculator or a new software program. Start by working with calculations in which you know the right answer, and you’ll be much more confident in using the technology to tackle new problems.

I had a calculus teacher in college who told us that most of the errors students made in their homework were errors in algebra. Not ...

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