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 mathematical 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. And that’s what learning statistics is about for most people: while anyone can learn to churn out calculations, a process made that much easier with the ready availability of dedicated statistical computing packages, if you don’t understand the meaning of the numbers thus produced, your efforts may 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 may ease your path into statistics, and working through some elementary problems will 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 where you already know what the right answer is, and you’ll be much more confident with ...

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