A Fraction of Statistics

Glancing at the clock mounted securely and utterly uselessly on the wall, I failed to discern the time, for ostentatiously patterned paper obscured the clock’s face like the contents of a carefully wrapped gift. Not for the first time, I wished I wore a watch. The desire which overtook me every time I was in this particular classroom, however, never induced me to change my mind about the wearing of timepieces, so still I grumbled.

I tapped my fingers on the desk, a staccato rhythm, titter-tattering out the beat of my boredom and the passing minutes. Normally, I used my mechanical pencil to keep the meter of my thoughts steady. Today, however, my nails were long, so I took the opportunity, putting the claw-like implements to good use, and drummed at the table impatiently. I desperately needed to trim my fingernails, but the task took too much time. More than I had. The thought merely added to my barely-contained irritation.

Looking down at the abhorrent shade of yellow known as goldenrod in front of me, I contemplated my math test. Why did I always manage to receive the version of the test bearing the worst color imaginable? Goldenrod? With the severe black type running across the page like pestilent little ants, the paper glared menacingly up in my direction. I suppressed a groan. The color was distracting, not to mention the paper resembled an angry hornet, yellow with sinister black stripes covering the insect’s body as the hornet buzzed in to strike, harboring the intention to kill.

Statistics. I briefly forced my attention to wander back to the subject at hand. Hikers and mountain climbers often wandered too. It would be far more interesting to be elsewhere on a grand adventure. Nearly laughing aloud imagining myself at the peak of a pointy Swiss mountain in the Alps, I managed to contain myself. I attempted to ignore my buggy paper and regain my concentration simultaneously, reading the first problem.

The question was multiple choice. I never liked multiple choice. The answers were too easily confused. I could mistake one potential solution with another due to the convoluted semantics and fail to notice the error. I also found it all too simple to second guess myself, and to date, I never failed to replace my intuitive decision with the incorrect alternative. I stared down at the letters on the page, small dark worms curled on the paper.

On the other hand, multiple choice questions were lovely because all the answers appeared in a nice, concise list. Each point was clearly lettered for the sake of simplicity, forming a sort of symmetry like the black spots on a ladybug. I knew I had only so many options from which to choose. Thus, my stance on multiple choice questions was decidedly undecided.

I punched the buttons on my calculator, computing the values of proportions. The incessant tapping marked the passing seconds. The seconds morphed into minutes as I completed the multiple choice portion of the test, the swooshing glide of my pencil filling in the circles that designated my answers setting the tempo after I placed aside my calculator.

I enjoyed the free response sections of tests better. Although I crammed my answers into the small spaces provided like bees nestled in a hive and my neat handwriting turned to a rough scrawl in my hurry, the words rambling over the page like the elongated bodies of millipedes, I always managed to fully express my thoughts.

A sudden realization materialized in a manner akin to a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, and I remembered to check the three conditions: simple random sample, normality, and independence. I smiled to myself, glad I managed to salvage several points.

I felt a slight sense of accomplishment. I knew the material. Actually, I never doubted the fact. I griped about the marigold (or whatever flower) color of the test, rebelling against the complexity or the simplicity, and the gross amount of writing. Whichever bothersome flaw caught my fancy in the moment. Completing my work well and punctually, though, permitted me the right to complain, even if I kept my musings private. I had to admit, nevertheless, that despite the hideous shade of the test (which still reminded me of bees), I enjoyed statistics. I liked composing hypotheses and drawing conclusions.

I commenced with the evaluation of my abilities.

I wrote out my hypotheses. First in symbols, then in words. Mathematical jargon spun through my head as I compared population proportions and considered parameters. I contemplated context. I interpreted results in terms of the problems, stating whether the claims were plausible. Phrases such as “I am ninety-five percent confident” and “There is a two percent chance of results of this caliber occurring if the null hypothesis is true” rushed through my mind.

My focus riveted to the yellow paper, I wrote. I calculated, clicking away the seconds on my calculator. Now that I achieved an ideal state of focus, obtained a level of concentration necessary to sufficiently demonstrate my skills, my pencil zipped over the page like the quickly beating wings of a dragonfly in spite of the obnoxious goldenrod hue. The smooth movement of my pencil, the proportion of golden pages filled, and the ticking of the keys on my calculator were the only methods of time I kept. I paid no mind to the shielded clock. I was confident that I had time enough to complete the test.

The sheets of paper lay immobile, but the test truly resembled a bright yellow and black wasp, poised to strike. Yet I had nothing to fear. The atrocious color of the test was no real cause for pain; the exorbitant amount of writing was the veritable culprit. I rolled my sore and brutally overtaxed wrist and continued inscribing yet another stripe on the wasp.

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