You should have already used statistics in your lessons already, particularly in mathematics. For example:
- Collecting data: making a survey or questionnaire about what eye colour, height or favourite food from your classmates. You then may have to group this data into boys vs girls or age
- Calculating averages: working out the mean, mode and median
- Representing data: drawing pie charts, bar charts, line graphs, and frequency polygons
- Probability: working out the chances that you will pick a classmate who likes the same food as you.
Mathematics contains statistics, though the word ‘statistics’ is not always used. The section on data-handling is all about statistical techniques and their uses.
You will find that the statistical process of asking a question, getting appropriate data, analysing and representing the data and then drawing conclusions is very similar to the process of a scientific investigation. Science uses a lot of statistics in drawing conclusions. You will also find statistics used in different ways in geography, history, citizenship, psychology, economics, business studies and many other school subjects.
Statistics is everywhere
You will notice that statistics is used often in all your lessons, not just maths and science. Sometimes, you use it in sports or PE to work out your heart rate per minute or when drawing a graph for a group project about population rates in geography lessons. In England there is a separate GCSE in Statistics now available.
At home, you may be receiving an extra £5 a week and have worked out how many weeks it takes to save for that new games console. When out shopping, you may have worked out which of the several multi-pack, buy one-get two free offers was really the best value.
Whenever you see real data or ‘facts and figures’ in things like newspapers or magazines, ask yourself what they really tell you. If a newspaper article makes a claim based on some data, ask whether the commentary is a true reflection of the data. Sometimes you will find that the article is misleading. Sometimes it is deliberately misleading, often it is not – the writer might not be very good at statistics. Make a note of the ways that you find statistics being misused.
Learn to ask critical questions so that you are aware of both the strengths of good data and the weaknesses of poor data. Ask who collected the data and how – are they more likely to be telling me the truth or are they likely to be biased in some way? If the data has been collected properly, what does it actually tell me? Use the techniques that you already know to understand more about what the data is telling you.