How Hard Is Statistics in College?

How Hard Is Statistics in College?

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If you’re anything like most students, you’ll often find statistics (or any branch of mathematics) intimidating. However, in today’s data-driven world, the subject is more widely taught than ever, meaning chances are you won’t be able to avoid it. Having said that, if statistics are part of our day-to-day life, is the subject really as difficult as we think it is?

College statistics can be somewhat hard at first until you get a grasp of the fundamentals. However, after mastering the basics, the subject is relatively easy to follow, as you’ll be able to find its use in practical applications.

However, since statistics’ bad rep has been around for quite a while, it’s hard to shake off. Therefore, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed at the thought of taking a statistics course, let’s dive a bit more into the reasons why statistics are often thought of as difficult, how to get a better grasp of the subject, and what statistics courses you’ll likely come across in college.

Reasons Why Students Find Statistics Difficult

It’s pretty rare to find a student who gets excited at the thought of attending a statistics class. 

It doesn’t help that almost half of the students who take statistics exams fail. Therefore, the reason for this perception may be because statistics has gained a reputation for being too complex, there could be other factors affecting how students feel about it.

Here are some reasons why students find statistics difficult:

  • Teachers are unable to explain concepts effectively.
  • Fundamental concepts and basic terms can be confusing.
  • Formulas are intimidating.
  • Statistics is closely linked to other disciplines.
  • The subject involves analysis.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Teachers Are Unable To Explain Concepts Effectively

When a student fails an exam, it’s not solely the student’s fault. Teachers play a huge part in ensuring that their protégés understand governing theories and concepts. There are concepts in statistics, for example, that may not naturally follow logic. The probability theory, in particular, does not follow the normal causal pattern that A always leads to B.

Therefore, those who teach statistics often have to teach against what has long been ingrained in the minds of their students not only because of other disciplines but also by the natural order of things in everyday life.

Failure on the part of teachers to sufficiently explain statistical concepts that make drawing insights from data possible is a major stumbling block for students. They can memorize formulas all they want, but they won’t be able to analyze data or translate it to practical application without a proper understanding of guiding concepts.

Moreover, students can find it frustrating when there is a disconnect between what is taught in class and what is required in the exams. 

Fundamental Concepts and Basic Terms Can Be Confusing

If you’re new to learning statistics, the biggest challenge is familiarizing yourself with all the terms and basic concepts. It’s just like when a chord progression can seem daunting when you’re just learning how to pin the right strings on a guitar.

However, this doesn’t have to be a hindrance in your studies. The difficulty comes when you try to learn everything at once. It’s easy to get confused when you do. Instead, learn the basics first and go from there.

In fact, having a good understanding of basic concepts will make learning much easier for you, as all concepts and theories branch out from each other and are interrelated. Understand the basics, and you’ll find that the rest is a breeze.

Formulas Are Intimidating

This is particularly true for those who have a fear of anything math-related. However, you can’t help but deal with numbers, figures, and formulas in statistics.

Besides, formulas only seem intimidating when you think you have to memorize each one in order to do well in class. That’s not true at all. Although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with memorizing the formulas (and is actually beneficial if you want to become a statistician), you don’t have to memorize them to understand when to use them and how.

Why else would most statistics teachers provide formula guides during exams? Furthermore, in practical application, people who use statistics for research studies or business rarely draw from memorized information when they need to analyze data.

Therefore, instead of putting unnecessary pressure on yourself, try your best to understand how and when to properly use statistical formulas instead. If you do memorize the formulas, make sure that you’re not simply doing so to compensate for a gap in understanding.

Statistics Is Closely Linked to Other Disciplines

If you generally have a hard time in other disciplines that are closely related to statistics, particularly mathematics, chances are you’ll also have a hard time studying statistics. 

Many students make the mistake of thinking that a good grasp of basic mathematics isn’t important because statistics is largely non-mathematical in that it deals with analysis and interpretation of data.

While it’s true that the abstract functions of statistics are a crucial component of the subject, you can’t do any of those without the processes of data gathering and calculation, which largely involve mathematical disciplines. Therefore, if you neglect this basic yet essential aspect, you’ll have a hard time studying statistics overall.

Moreover, statistics is closely linked to other disciplines like biology, economics, criminology, social science, and many more. This is because statistics is not merely an end goal in itself, but instead, it’s a means to better understand other areas of science.

If you happen to be struggling in any of these disciplines, you may find statistics challenging too. However, once you’ve gained a good grasp of its concepts, you’ll find that not only will understanding statistics itself get easier, but you’ll also appreciate these other sciences more.

It Involves Analysis

Statistics involves making guided interpretations of available data based on relevant theories or concepts. Unlike arithmetic, which is as straightforward as they come, statistics requires much more involvement and attention.

It means you can’t expect to do the minimum and excel at it. It’s not as simple as following a formula and getting an answer. 

This is why it’s important to remember that instead of simply memorizing your notes, you have to make sure that you understand what’s being taught.

How To Get Better at Statistics

Now that you have a better idea of why statistics can be challenging, you’ll be able to recognize that while statistics is not exactly simple, it can be understood. 

Regardless of whether you’re a student who’s struggling with their grades or someone about to enter college afraid of the statistics courses that are bound to show up in the curriculum; if you want to do well (or better) in your classes, here are a few things you can do.

Get Familiar With the Basics

As I mentioned previously, understanding the basics is key. Don’t run before you can walk, as they say, or else you’ll only get more and more confused as your lessons progress.

Additionally, don’t underestimate having a proper understanding of terminologies used. You’ll encounter lots of these in your classes. Fully understanding of all terms will help keep you on track. 

If there’s anything that you don’t understand, make sure to raise it to your instructor. Your teachers are there to help and guide you. Don’t wait until the exams to let them know you haven’t been able to follow.


As said century after century, practice makes perfect. There are many mechanical skills that you can sharpen either on your own or through the help of your teacher. These include calculations, data manipulation, and data gathering. 

If you’re unsure how you can practice on your own, use the exercises your teachers give you during class and pore over those. 

Different exercises are designed to sharpen specific skills. Often, teachers don’t combine several outcomes in one exercise simply because it’s better to have students understand one concept first before moving to another. 

Therefore, when practicing on your own or using your teacher’s exercises (and even the exams and assignments that you’ve already done in the past), it’s essential to know what those exercises are designed to achieve. That way, you’ll know what your outcome should be, instead of simply practicing for the sake of it.

Another trick you can use to make practice more effective is to learn off your own notes. This way, you’ll be able to jot down important concepts in your own words. Given that they are a record of how you personally understood the lesson, it will make it easier to remember, and you’ll be able to gauge right away how well you understand the subject matter.

Join a Study Group

Having a community of fellow learners can be very helpful, especially if you are struggling in your studies. In a study group, you’ll be able to share ideas, compare notes, and even ask for help. Plus, fellow students are often easier to relate to than your teachers.

For this reason, if you’re having difficulties with a certain topic yet feel uncomfortable talking to your teacher about it or raising it in class, a study group is an excellent place to get a conversation going. 

To make study groups effective, establish a schedule that’s helpful but that’s not too demanding on your time. That way, you can commit to being present and you can still study on your own.

Find a Good Tutor

Lastly, if you really need help, you could find a tutor who can teach you one-on-one. Teachers play a big role in how well students understand the subject. Therefore, if you feel like your teacher just isn’t doing that for you, you may need to look for support elsewhere.

The good thing with today’s technology is that you don’t even have to meet your tutor in a physical classroom anymore. You can carry out your lessons over the Internet whenever it is convenient. 

You’ll know that you found a good tutor if they are:

  • Very knowledgeable about the subject.
  • Able to explain complex concepts clearly and simply.
  • Approachable and open to questions and clarifications.
  • Patient with you when you have a hard time understanding certain topics.

If you’ve found someone who meets all of the above, you’re in good hands. So keep studying!

Types of College Statistics Courses

Statistics is the discipline of collecting and analyzing data that can be applied in different fields of science. The following are some of the most common statistics courses that you’ll encounter in college:

  • Introduction to statistics: This is the first step towards basic understanding of statistics. If you haven’t come across any statistics subjects in high school or want to strengthen your understanding of fundamental statistics concepts, this will be helpful for you.
  • Probability theory: Probability theory is the study of possible outcomes or chance events in a logical and scientific manner. This study draws heavily from mathematical disciplines and is offered to math or statistics majors.
  • Applied statistics: This course is usually offered to students who are majoring in natural sciences or math. It is mainly concerned with the practical application of statistical analysis of data in other scientific disciplines. This course is also helpful in environmental research, such as in population surveys, experiments, and sampling. 
  • Biostatistics: Usually offered to biology majors, this course helps students use statistical techniques and theories in analyzing data gathered from research and experiments. 
  • Statistical modeling: This is the discipline of using statistical analysis in order to make logical predictions about outcomes based on data, and is usually taught in conjunction with social sciences.


Statistics is a logical and interpretive discipline that is useful in different fields of science, business, and even government. 

It may seem intimidating at first, but don’t let that first impression stop you from understanding its usefulness and importance. Remember to get familiar with the basics, practice often, study with others, or find someone who can tutor you.

That way, you will not only be able to get good grades, but you’ll also discover an appreciation for this discipline that you never knew you had.

Before long, you may find yourself having fun at your statistics class!