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What is statistics anxiety

Research has shown that statistics anxiety can compromise students’ performance in statistic modules at university (Hoegler & Nelson, 2018; Nesbit & Bourne, 2018). Are you surprised by it? I am not.

During the past few years I have spent a significant amount of time researching statistics anxiety. As part of my study, I have also created online interventions to support students struggling with statistics learning. My goal was to create an online peer support group to help minimize their discomfort and improve academic performance.

The results of my research suggested that this type of intervention can be effective. This experiment also helped me to understand how crippling this problem can be for some students. It was the catalyst that encouraged me to find creative ways to help and support my peers.

When you experience statistics anxiety an emotional and intellectual block is created that disrupts the learning process. You may feel uncomfortable even thinking about your next stats lecture. 

This is more common than you think and it is a serious threat for many college students. The reasons behind statistics anxiety are varied and each student is an individual case. In addition, research by Siew, McCartney and Vitevitch (2019) argued that there is a difference between students presenting high or low statistics anxiety levels.

Students who have high statistics anxiety tend to hold negative internal attributions (i.e., not being smart or mathematically inclined to do well in statistics), whereas students with low statistics anxiety tend to hold negative external attributions (i.e., statistics is not relevant or useful to me). However, it is also plausible that some students with low statistics anxiety may simply have higher levels of self-efficacy.

How can I overcome statistics anxiety?

The reality is that each student has different needs and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You may need to dig inside of yourself and use all the psychological skills that you have to understand where this is coming from.

Some of you might be thinking that it is not worth investigating the causes of your statistics anxiety because it is not really that important. Are you sure about that? Listen, statistics modules are mandatory in a variety of college degrees and chances are you are going to spend a lot of time studying it. There is no way around it. That would be a shame to miss the opportunity to alleviate any potential distress that you may be feeling. After all, who wants to spend their entire degree feeling miserable?

Statistics anxiety may prevent you from learning very valuable skills useful in academia and in the workplace. Statistical knowledge is a must if you want to conduct quantitative research in further education. In addition, those skills can help to progress your career in a variety of professional settings. It’s really not worth suffering in silence.

If you are experiencing statistics anxiety, you may feel very overwhelmed and adopt an avoidant coping strategy. Let me tell you, there are more positive ways to deal with it. The truth is, the more you avoid it, the more terrifying you perceive it to be. How about trying something new?

What should I do?

There are many helpful things you can do to feel more comfortable with statistics. For instance, repeated practice is quite important. Sometimes you we do need a little bit of “soaking” time in your brain until we can understand a statistical concept. It’s normal.

Once you start gaining more familiarity with statistics, you get to appreciate its utility and meaning. In fact, understanding how to use statistics to solve real-life problems can develop your self-efficacy skills which may reduce the psychological blocks associated with it.

In addition, talking to your lecturer can be a great first step. I know that sometimes you don’t want to because you may feel embarrassed. Just remember that there is no shame in asking for help. If you don’t want to speak up in class, try to schedule a private meeting. Don’t forget that your lecturers always have your best interests at heart and they want you to do well.

Let’s imagine you really don’t want to speak to your lecturer. In this case, try to talk to your peers. You never know, they might be going through the same problem as you or it might be the case they are really good at it and can help you.

From my own research experience, it seems that most students benefit from studying stats in small groups. How about getting in touch with your classmates and starting a study group in your class? It’s OK if you encounter a little bit of resistance from your mates in the beginning – remember you’re competing with college life and all its excitements – but it’s really worth it. I did that while in college and it was a huge source of support during stressful times.

Alternatively, you have our team at Sunny Numbers. Yes, that’s right. Send your thoughts to and we will do our best to guide you. You can also start a discussion about a topic that you are struggling with and share ideas with other students. This is meant to be a supportive space so you don’t need to worry about being judged or uncomfortable. We are here to listen to you and help you succeed. I will never get tired of saying that peer support can be a very effective antidote to statistics anxiety.

However, if you think it might be beneficial for you, please check the counselling services available in your college. Sometimes all it takes for you to feel better is talking to someone that has a genuine interest in what you are going through.

Further Reading:

Hoegler, S., & Nelson, M. (2018). The Influence of Anxiety and Self-Efficacy on Statistics Performance: A Path Analysis. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 23(5), 364–375.

Nesbit, R. J., & Bourne, V. J. (2018). Statistics Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS) use in Psychology students: A review and analysis with an undergraduate sample. Psychology Teaching Review, 24(2), 101–110.

Siew, C. S., McCartney, M. J., & Vitevitch, M. S. (2019). Using network science to understand statistics anxiety among college students. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

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