So, you’ve got to read a statistics book. Maybe you’re taking a statistics course, or maybe you are working on some research and need to learn something about statistics. And the text isn’t something with a bright colored cover and a title like “Statistics for Dummies who think they don’t like statistics: The cartoon version”. No, it’s a text. And it hasn’t got a lot of fancy sidebars and things. And it’s got formulas. And you don’t like formulas.
What to do?
A statistics book is not a novel
OK, you knew that already. You read novels for fun, after all. But a statistics book isn’t even like one of those serious novels that get assigned in literature classes. But that’s not all bad. If you’re in class, you probably have one statistics book for the whole semester, while, in a literature class, you’d probably have to read many novels. But this is the key to a lot of my hints.
Hint one: Read statistics books slowly
If you’re studying statistics you’re probably in college, or already graduated. You’re probably very used to reading, and you may even read very fast. You probably are good at skimming. Most likely, you don’t mouth what you read. Now, throw those good habits away. Read slowly. When I read a statistics book in an area that’s new to me, it can take me a long time to read one page. Sometimes, it can take a while to read one sentence! It nearly always takes a while to read a formula. Formulas pack a lot of info into a small space – but all that information still has to be digested. I sometimes deliberately mouth the words, just to slow myself down.
Hint two: Take notes in your statistics book
If it’s a book you intend to keep, you can even write in the book itself. If you want to sell the book back, or if writing in a book just rubs you the wrong way, use postits. What I like to do is, in the front cover, write down a brief definition of every new symbol and term, together with the page it’s on. This will be easier than using a glossary, and it forces me to think. In the margins of the text, I’ll make notes as I read.
Hint three: Try the exercises
If you’re in a class, some of the exercises in your statistics book will be assigned, and you obviously want to do those. But you should at least look at the others. Do you have a good idea how to go about solving them? Or are you lost? Most authors try to make the exercises appropriate for the text – although, in more advanced and theoretical books, sometimes the exercises are used to develop ideas that weren’t in the book
Hint four: Read the statistics book again
After reading a section or a chapter, put the book aside. Then come back to it after a few hours or a day, and re-read. This time, things will probably go faster. Then look at those exercises again. Try rereading earlier chapters, if you need to; that should go very quickly now.
Hint five: Read in a group
Especially if you are in a class, find others who are reading the book, and read together and ask each other questions about the book or share where you are confused.