Math Anxiety, Dyscalculia and Six Sigma

In our Black Belt program, we make extensive use of Minitab statistical software.  The software performs the actual mathematical calculations, relieving the student of the burden of knowing how to do them using paper and pencil.   To use Minitab effectively, students must be able to choose the appropriate test or analysis to perform for a given set of circumstances and must be able to correctly interpret the output from the software.  Two conditions, math anxiety and dyscalculia, may hinder their ability to do so. 

As part of the admission process to our Black Belt certificate program, I conduct a comprehensive discussion with students to clarify expectations and answer questions they may have about our program.  One of the topics that we discuss is the required level of skill to deal with mathematical concepts and statistics at the Black Belt level.  Candidates for the Black Belt are expected to understand how to use and apply high-school level math skills such as: 

  • Basic algebra equations using cross-multiplication
  • Powers and roots of numbers
  • Interpolation between two numbers
  • Equation for a line using slope and y intercept
  • Proportions and percentages
  • Area under a curve 

Math anxiety can make people question their abilities in math, even if they have strong skills. And although it’s not a learning issue, it can certainly get in the way of learning math.  Signs of math anxiety include worrying about doing poorly using math, even though concepts are understood; being able to solve math problems but feeling anxious about doing so; making errors because of anxiety.

Dyscalculia is a learning issue that affects math skills like counting, recalling math facts and understanding math concepts.  It is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for people to perform math-related tasks.  Please note that dyscalculia and dyslexia are not the same thing.  Both conditions can cause people to feel anxious and to want to avoid using math.   Signs of dyscalculia include worrying about doing poorly using math because the concepts are not understood; struggling to solve problems and getting many of them wrong. 

We take four steps to help our students succeed: 

1.     We introduce basic concepts at the Green Belt level and then build on these concepts at the Black Belt level.  For example, we introduce the difference between attribute data and continuous data at the Green Belt level.  At the Black Belt level, we show students how the difference impacts their choice of statistical tests.

2.    Our Black Belt course materials include decision flow charts that help students determine what statistical analysis or test is appropriate under a given set of circumstances.  For example, the choice of which Statistical Process Control chart to use is driven in part by whether the data is attribute or continuous in nature.

3.    Our course materials include real world examples of how each math concept is applied.   For example, correlation is a measure of the linear association between two variables.  An example of positive correlation is that we might expect the selling price of a house to be correlated to the size of the house, i.e. a larger house would have a higher sales prices than a smaller house.

4.    Students are assured that if they do not understand a concept or do not understand how to complete an assignment, they will be coached until they are able to successfully complete the assignment.  We remove the fear of “failing a math test”.  

Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at 

About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 50 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to