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## Comparing Two Samples: Classifying Variance

Imagine that the teacher mentioned in the previous section was indeed attempting to determine if the study session he held two days before the exam helped or not. One potential pitfall in simply visually comparing to graphs would be that an improvement in scores could be due to several factors, not just to the study session. For example, this year's class, as a whole, could have been luckier in the multiple choice section than the previous year's. Is there any way to characterize how lucky a class would need to be in order to perform much better? If there was (and there is), then perhaps the teacher could interpret the fact that the class would have to be amazingly lucky to perform as well as is did as not just luck, but due to his study session. In a sense, the fundamental idea in statistics is to try to determine if change is a result of chance or due to a specific reason. In order to do this, we must consider variability (see Figures 3.2.2, 3.2.3 and 3.2.4).   The variance of a model, notated with , quantifies how spread out the data is. In Figures 3.2.2, 3.2.3 and 3.2.4 we can see how larger values for result in shorter peaks and a broader distribution of the data. If we can determine the variance for a model (usually it is estimated from the data), then we can use this information to help calculate the significance of the difference between two samples. Typically, this is done by calculating difference between the two sample means and dividing by the square root of the variation. That is, (3.2.1)

where is the mean of the data set, is the mean of the data set and is an estimate of the variation in the distributions that the data came from, . We will talk more about how to calculate shortly.

If you think about it briefly, you will see that the smaller the variation, the more significant the difference will be. Another way to think about it is that, for data sets with large amounts of variation, the difference between the two means must be greater in order to avoid being in the area of overlap between the two distributions (Figure 3.2.4).

The Study Sessionno_title

Example 3.2.2.2 (The Study Session)

For example, if the average exam score for the year without the study session was 75%, thus, and the and for the year with the study session , then the difference the two years is, . If the estimated variation in the distributions that the data came from is , then we will have distributions like that seen in Figure 3.2.2 and the difference between the two means would be quite clear. However, if , then the difference would be scaled by Equation 3.2.1 to be only 2, and not as significant. Calculating , an estimate of is quite simple. We simply average the squared differences between each observation and the mean. That is, (3.2.2)

The reason we square each difference is that we do not want positive deviations from the mean negating negative deviations.

To summarize the process of statistical analysis, here is a list of general steps:

1. Take a bunch of measurements.
2. Make a histogram of the measurements. From this we can take a guess at the type of distribution that the data came from. In this case, the histogram looked fairly symmetrical with a single hump in the middle and this shape is often modeled with a normal distribution. Other shapes are better modeled with other distributions (see Figure 3.8.3).
3. Estimate means and variances from the data and use them to compare different distributions.    Next: What Statistical Power Means Up: Formal Questions of a Previous: Probability Distributions   Index

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Frank Starmer 2004-05-19
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