Sign test - overview

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Sign test
Two sample $z$ test
Independent variableIndependent variable
2 paired groupsOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Dependent variableDependent variable
One of ordinal levelOne quantitative of interval or ratio level
Null hypothesisNull hypothesis
  • P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) = P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
If the dependent variable is measured on a continuous scale, this can also be formulated as:
  • The median of the difference scores is zero in the population
$\mu_1 = \mu_2$
$\mu_1$ is the unknown mean in population 1, $\mu_2$ is the unknown mean in population 2
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
  • Two sided: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) $\neq$ P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
  • Right sided: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) > P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
  • Left sided: P(first score of a pair exceeds second score of a pair) < P(second score of a pair exceeds first score of a pair)
If the dependent variable is measured on a continuous scale, this can also be formulated as:
  • Two sided: the median of the difference scores is different from zero in the population
  • Right sided: the median of the difference scores is larger than zero in the population
  • Left sided: the median of the difference scores is smaller than zero in the population
Two sided: $\mu_1 \neq \mu_2$
Right sided: $\mu_1 > \mu_2$
Left sided: $\mu_1 < \mu_2$
AssumptionsAssumptions
Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
  • Within each population, the scores on the dependent variable are normally distributed
  • Population standard deviations $\sigma_1$ and $\sigma_2$ are known
  • Group 1 sample is a simple random sample (SRS) from population 1, group 2 sample is an independent SRS from population 2. That is, within and between groups, observations are independent of one another
Test statisticTest statistic
$W = $ number of difference scores that is larger than 0$z = \dfrac{(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) - 0}{\sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}} = \dfrac{\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2}{\sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}}$
$\bar{y}_1$ is the sample mean in group 1, $\bar{y}_2$ is the sample mean in group 2, $\sigma^2_1$ is the population variance in population 1, $\sigma^2_2$ is the population variance in population 2, $n_1$ is the sample size of group 1, $n_2$ is the sample size of group 2. The 0 represents the difference in population means according to H0.

The denominator $\sqrt{\frac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \frac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}$ is the standard deviation of the sampling distribution of $\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2$. The $z$ value indicates how many of these standard deviations $\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2$ is removed from 0.

Note: we could just as well compute $\bar{y}_2 - \bar{y}_1$ in the numerator, but then the left sided alternative becomes $\mu_2 < \mu_1$, and the right sided alternative becomes $\mu_2 > \mu_1$
Sampling distribution of $W$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $z$ if H0 were true
The exact distribution of $W$ under the null hypothesis is the Binomial($n$, $p$) distribution, with $n =$ number of positive differences $+$ number of negative differences, and $p = 0.5$.

If $n$ is large, $W$ is approximately normally distributed under the null hypothesis, with mean $np = n \times 0.5$ and standard deviation $\sqrt{np(1-p)} = \sqrt{n \times 0.5(1 - 0.5)}$. Hence, if $n$ is large, the standardized test statistic $$z = \frac{W - n \times 0.5}{\sqrt{n \times 0.5(1 - 0.5)}}$$ follows approximately a standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.
Standard normal
Significant?Significant?
If $n$ is small, the table for the binomial distribution should be used:
Two sided:
  • Check if $W$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find two sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $W$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Right sided:
  • Check if $W$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find right sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $W$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Left sided:
  • Check if $W$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find left sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $W$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$

If $n$ is large, the table for standard normal probabilities can be used:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
n.a.$C\%$ confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$
-$(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) \pm z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}$
where $z^*$ is the value under the normal curve with the area $C / 100$ between $-z^*$ and $z^*$ (e.g. $z^*$ = 1.96 for a 95% confidence interval)

The confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$ can also be used as significance test.
n.a.Visual representation
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Two sample z test
Equivalent ton.a.
Two sided sign test is equivalent to -
Example contextExample context
Do people tend to score higher on mental health after a mindfulness course?Is the average mental health score different between men and women? Assume that in the population, the standard devation of the mental health scores is $\sigma_1$ = 2 amongst men and $\sigma_2$ = 2.5 amongst women.
SPSSn.a.
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > 2 Related Samples...
  • Put the two paired variables in the boxes below Variable 1 and Variable 2
  • Under Test Type, select the Sign test
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Jamovin.a.
Jamovi does not have a specific option for the sign test. However, you can do the Friedman test instead. The $p$ value resulting from this Friedman test is equivalent to the two sided $p$ value that would have resulted from the sign test. Go to:

ANOVA > Repeated Measures ANOVA - Friedman
  • Put the two paired variables in the box below Measures
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Practice questionsPractice questions