If you’re studying social science at college, you will have to take a course in statistics, which can be very off-putting, especially if mathematics was not your strong-point at school. However, when it comes to research for your dissertation or thesis, you will need to have a good knowledge of statistics and how they can be used to back up your claims. There is no way of avoiding hard work when it comes to statistics, but there are a few ways that you can make learning a little more straightforward.
*Learn the basics as you go along
You may hate the idea of looking at your statistics text books in between classes. However, you will learn much more quickly if you pick up the basics as you go along, rather than leave them until the week before the exam and then try to make sense of it all. Make careful notes in your lectures and write down as many examples as possible, then keep going through them until they begin to make sense.
*Don’t rely on just one source
You will probably have a workbook as part of your course, and possibly a text book to back it up. Consider getting hold of another text book, just so that you can see the rules explained in a different way – sometimes it is easier to understand one person’s explanation than it is another’s. If you get the chance to attend another lecturer’s session, then do so – again, the more ways something is explained, the more likely you are to pick it up.
*Practice, practice, practice
Many social scientists think that they don’t need to bother getting to grips with the intricacies of statistics, because there are software packages, such as SPSS, to sort it out for them. However, you still need a certain amount of knowledge to be able to manipulate the data properly. Work through the examples in your text books time and time again so that you can really get to grips with how statistics work. You will probably need to do this for exams anyway.
*Read and analyse research reports
As part of your course, you will be expected to read a number of research reports. Pay careful attention each time you come across a reference to statistical explanations. You will eventually be expected to use the same sort of wording. Analysing what other authors have already worked out will also reiterate what you have already learned, enabling you to put it into practice much more easily.
*Ask for help when you need it
If you are not mathematically minded, you will almost certainly come across problems during the learning process. There will undoubtedly be plenty of others going through the same thing. Get together with classmates to work things out between you. If you get really stuck, then go to your lecturer and ask for help – even if they can’t do it for you, they can at least point you in the right direction.
Ultimately, if you struggle with mathematics, you will probably find statistics very alien. However, if you put in the work, there is no reason why you shouldn’t soon be able to manipulate data as though you have been doing it for years.