Hypothesis Testing

Hypothesis Testing is a framework of testing some assumptions in Inferential Statistics

  • a result is statistically significant if it's very unlikely to have happened due to chance alone


Suppose we have 2 groups and we observe the difference between them


  • Is this difference significant?
  • Could the difference be due to natural variability of the Sampling Distribution?
  • Or we have something stronger?

Statistical tests (often as well called "Hypothesis tests" or "Tests of Significance") answer these questions.

Structure of Statistical Test


  1. Determine the $H_0$ and $H_A$
  2. Collect data and calculate a test statistic
  3. Calculate the $p$-value
  4. Make a conclusion based on it and on the context

Step 1: Null and Alternative Hypotheses

  • Formulate a hypothesis what you want to test and specify its alternative

Court case analogy: Innocent until proven guilty

  • "Innocent" part
    • null-Hypothesis $H_0$ (read as "H-naught")
    • it's a skeptical position or position of no difference
    • example: no relationships, no difference, etc
    • we assume it's true
  • "Guilty" part:
    • alternative hypothesis $H_A$ (or $H_a$ or $H_1$)
    • it's a new perspective
    • this is what a researcher wants to establish
    • example: relationship, change, difference

And we question we ask is do we have enough evidence to rule out any difference from the $H_0$ that are just due to chance?

Like in a court, we conclude that $H_A$ is true if we have evidence against $H_0$.

Alternatives could be

  • one-sided (greater than or less than)
  • two-sided (not equal)

So the first step is

  • clearly specify the null and alternative hypotheses

Step 2: Evidence - Test Statistics

  • The evidence is provided by our data
  • We need to summarize the data into a test statistics: a numerical summary of the data.

A test statistic is made under assumption that $H_0$ is true

So the 2nd step is

  • Collect the data and calculate a test statistic assuming $H_0$ is true

Step 3: $P$-value

  • Is the evidence (the test statistics) good enough to reject the $H_0$?


  • helps us to answer this question: it transforms the test statistic into a probabilistic scale:
  • it's a number between 0 and 1 that quantifiers the strength of evidence against the $H_0$
  • formally, $p$-value is a conditional probability of
    • observing data favorable to $H_A$ and to the current data set
    • given $H_0$ is true

It answers the following question

  • Assuming $H_0$ is true, how likely it is to observe a test statistic of this magnitude just by chance?
  • And the numerical answer is the $p$-value

The smaller the $p$-value the stronger the evidence against $H_0$


  • $p$-value cannot be interpreted as how likely it is that the $H_0$ is true.
  • $p$-value tells you how unlikely the observed value of the test statistics (and more extreme value) is if the $H_0$ was true.

So the 3rd step is

  • determine how unlikely the test statistic is if the $H_0$ is true (or, calculate the $p$-value)

Step 4: Verdict

Based on the $p$-value make a verdict:

  • $p$-value is not small
    • $\Rightarrow$ conclude that the data is consistent with the $H_0$
  • $p$-value is small
    • $\Rightarrow$ then we have sufficient evidence against $H_0$ to reject it in favor of $H_A$
    • we say "we fail to reject $H_0$"

Strength of the evidence:

  • $p < 0.001$ - very strong
  • $0.001 \leqslant p < 0.01$ - strong
  • $0.01 \leqslant p < 0.05$ - moderate
  • $0.05 \leqslant p < 0.1$ - weak
  • $p \geqslant 0.1$ - no evidence

The result is statistically significant if the evidence is strong.

The final step:

  • make a conclusion based on the $p$-value and on the context of the problem (important!)

Common Test Statistics


  • Critical Value
  • Power of a test
  • Significance level
  • $p$-value
  • Type I and II Errors ("Decision Errors")

Decision Errors

Summary [1]
$H_0$ is true $H_0$ is false
Reject $H_0$ Type I error
False positive
Correct outcome
True positive
Fail to reject $H_0$ Correct outcome
True negative
Type II error
False negative

Significance Level

  • The significance level of a test gives a cut-off for how small is small for a $p$-value
  • It's denoted by $\alpha$ and called "desired level of significance"
  • $\alpha$ shows how the testing method would perform in repeated sampling
  • If $H_0$ is true and you use $\alpha = 0.01$, and you carry out a test repeatedly, with the same size of a sample each time, you will reject $H_0$ 1% of the time, and not reject 99% of the time
  • If $\alpha$ is too small, you may never reject $H_0$, even if the true value is very different from the $H_0$

Choosing $\alpha$

  • traditionally, $\alpha=0.05$
  • if making Type I Errors is dangerous, or especially costly, choose small $\alpha$
    • in this case we want very strong evidence to support $H_A$ before rejecting $H_0$
  • if Type II Errors are more costly, then take higher $\alpha$, e.g. $\alpha=0.1$
    • here we're careful about failing to reject $H_0$ when it's false


A statistical test is robust if the p-value is approximately correct even if some conditions aren't fully satisfied

One-Sided vs Two-Sided

Alternative hypotheses $H_A$ could be one-sided or two-sided

  • if it's one-sided we look only at the corresponding tail of our Sampling Distribution
  • otherwise we look at both tails

Consider the following one-sample $z$-test for means:


  • $H_0: \mu = \mu_0, H_A: \mu > \mu_0$
  • $\mu_0$ is called the "null value" because we assume it under $H_0$
  • i.e. we want to check if population mean is larger than some value
  • under the Normal Model we calculate the $z$-score and corresponding $p$ value of the right tail
  • ab5ad1a1f6054967aecca86243c4b433.png

Analogously, for

  • $H_0: \mu = \mu_0, H_A: \mu < \mu_0$
  • we calculate the $p$-value based on the left tail
  • bb4edbb5330e4c0c814a89d52c821690.png


Two-Sided alternative hypotheses looks at both left and right tails. E.g.

  • $H_0: \mu = \mu_0, H_A: \mu \ne \mu_0$
  • 34a68f2b488c420fbc9ec0d522a9e906.png
  • if this case, we reject $H_0$ if the test statistics gets under any of the shaded tails
    • i.e. the $p$-value is (typically) twice bigger than for one-sided tests

Advice for Hypothesis Testing


  • Don't misinterpret $p$-values (see what p-values say and what don't)
  • A $p$-value is a measure of the strength of the evidence - so don't forget to report it

Data Collection

Data Collection matters

  • Sample wisely:
  • use randomization to avoid flaws and biases

Two-Sided Tests

Always try to use 2-sided tests

  • Unless you're really sure you need one direction
  • tests-1vs2sides.png
  • $p$-value for one-sided test is 0.5 of p-value of 2-sided

One-sided hypotheses are allowed only before seeing the data

  • it's never good to change 2-sided to 1-sided after observing the data
  • it can cause twice more Type I errors (False positives - i.e. rejecting $H_0$ when it's true)

Practical Significance

Statistical significance $\neq$ practical significance

  • the larger the $n$, the smaller $p$-value
  • A large $p$-value doesn't necessarily mean that the $H_0$ is true, there might be not enough power to reject it.

Small $p$-values can occur (in order of significance:)

  • by chance
  • data collection is biased
  • violations of the conditions
  • $H_0$ is false (the last one! - so be more careful about those above!)


  • If multiple tests are carried out, some are likely to be significant by chance alone
  • If $\alpha = 0.05$ we expect significant results 5% of the time, even when the $H_0$ is true
  • $\Rightarrow$ be suspicious if you see only a few significant results when many tests have been carried out

Data Snooping

  • The test results are not reliable if the statements of the hypotheses are suggested by data.
  • This is called data snooping - So hypotheses should be specified before any data is collected

General Advice

Relationship with Confidence Intervals

Main Article: Confidence Intervals and Statistical Tests

Some hypothesis can be checked with Confidence Intervals

  • e.g. if the null value (the value under $H_0$) is included in the CI, then $p$-value is greater than $\alpha$ and we fail to reject $H_0$

See Also