How I got over my fear of AP statistics (and passed!)

Could someone who struggles with math pass AP Statistics? I was about to find out.

It was the first day of my senior year of high school, and I was both excited and nervous. That morning, I had a conversation with my math teacher about the class. She knew that I had dyscalculia, a math learning disability that made math hard for me. She was checking in, making sure I was feeling prepared that day. 

As a freshman, I had taken Algebra I. That was followed by geometry as a sophomore and Algebra II as a junior. I was supposed to take trigonometry next. But because I wanted to take AP Literature as a senior, my school’s schedule left me only one math option — AP Statistics. I needed the math credit to graduate.

At first, AP Statistics sounded terrifying. But I had a lot of support to help me get past my fears. 

Because the school was small, my math teacher had actually been with me every year of high school. She was always very understanding and helpful when it came to my dyscalculia.

In fact, when I was struggling with math anxiety as a sophomore, she told me: “You have a brain for math.”

She said that to motivate me. She meant that even though I learned differently, I could still be successful in math.

It worked. The fact that she believed in me was a big reason why I agreed to take AP Statistics.

She also told me that taking an AP class didn’t mean I had to take the AP exam. I was scared of that exam, so it was a relief to hear I didn’t have to take it.

The idea, she said, wasn’t to just focus on the test. It was for me to learn about statistics and get a good foundation for college.

Despite her insights and encouragement, I was still nervous when I finally walked into the class. Nevertheless, I was determined to do well. And as I sat down, I was surrounded by friends. That made me feel more comfortable.

It might sound strange, but I didn’t mind if my friends knew I struggled with math. There were only 30 students in my senior class. I’d known nearly all of them since freshman year. Everyone knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We were all open to helping each other.

When the class started, my butterflies went away. My special education teacher even popped into the class several times to make sure I was doing OK.

As the weeks went on, I realized I could do this. I had a lot of support from both my math teacher and my special education teacher. I also got help from a family friend who really understood statistics. (He had tutored me for the SAT the previous year.)

The accommodations from my IEP made the class even more manageable. I was able to take tests in a separate room so I could focus better. That helped decrease my anxiety. I was also given extra time on tests. And I was occasionally allowed to use my class notes as a reference.

I struggle a lot with calculations, like one number multiplied by another. I have an easier time with concepts and ideas that can be described in words.

One of the biggest surprises to me was that statistics involves tons of concepts and definitions. These were easier for me to understand than numbers.

I was also fortunate that my math teacher often broke problems down into steps. This allowed me to identify the concepts behind the problem before actually tackling the calculations. Thank goodness for graphing calculators!

That’s not to say the class was easy. It was very challenging. Although I do better with concepts, I have a difficult time when the concepts are abstract.

For example, when I first learned about probability, I didn’t know how it worked, or even what it was. But one of the most fun things was when my teacher used games to bring concepts into the real world. To understand probability, we rolled a lot of dice.

In the end, I passed the class. Although I didn’t take the AP exam, I completed about 90 percent of the AP statistics curriculum.

Now, as a psychology major in college, I’m looking forward to taking my required college statistics class in the upcoming year. I’m no longer nervous. I feel confident! After all, I just finished my first semester of college, and so far I’ve earned all A’s and B’s.


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