You may have managed to minimize your exposure to it as an undergrad, but now it's time to face the numbers. As a grad student, you'll need to pass — and learn —statistics. Relax.
No, really — relax. Anxiety will reduce your ability to learn and apply mathematical concepts, says psychologist Mark Ashcraft, PhD, who studies mathematical cognition.
"Math anxious people are...consuming energy resources by stressing, rather than concentrating these resources on math," explains Ashcraft, psychology department chair at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
But how do you stop worrying about learning statistics?
Take advantage of teamwork. Study groups can help inspire, encourage and teach math phobic students, says Wei Pan, PhD, a psychology and statistics professor at the University of Cincinnati. Rather than staring at a textbook and worrying, you're pooling knowledge and engaging with others. So, team up with your fellow students and work on those problem sets together, he suggests.
Practice, practice, practice. Repetition is essential to cementing statistical concepts, says Sian Beilock, PhD, who studies cognitive behavior in stressful situations. So do your homework, and consider practicing more on the side if you still feel shaky. Extra work now pays off later: If you go into a test knowing certain operations so well that they're almost automatic, you won't need to expend as much energy on the basics.
Know you can do it. Ascribing your poor performance to being a woman, a social science type or being born with a faulty math gene can get in the way, says Beilock. If you're smart enough to get into grad school, you can learn basic stats, Ashcraft adds: "Statistics is really not much more than applied mathematics."
Get extra help. Your stats professor may be the last person you want to spend extra time with, but going to office hours can be a source of one-on-one help on the particular concepts that trip you up, says Pan. If you suspect the problem lies with a shaky grasp of key mathematical concepts, an undergrad or community college basic algebra class is a good place to brush up, experts say.