Sign test - overview

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Sign test
$z$ test for a single proportion
Independent variableIndependent variable
2 paired groupsNone
Dependent variableDependent variable
One of ordinal levelOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Null hypothesisNull hypothesis
  • H0: 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:
  • H0: the population median of the difference scores is equal to zero
A difference score is the difference between the first score of a pair and the second score of a pair.
H0: $\pi = \pi_0$

Here $\pi$ is the population proportion of 'successes', and $\pi_0$ is the population proportion of successes according to the null hypothesis.
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
  • H1 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)
  • H1 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)
  • H1 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:
  • H1 two sided: the population median of the difference scores is different from zero
  • H1 right sided: the population median of the difference scores is larger than zero
  • H1 left sided: the population median of the difference scores is smaller than zero
H1 two sided: $\pi \neq \pi_0$
H1 right sided: $\pi > \pi_0$
H1 left sided: $\pi < \pi_0$
AssumptionsAssumptions
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
  • Sample size is large enough for $z$ to be approximately normally distributed. Rule of thumb:
    • Significance test: $N \times \pi_0$ and $N \times (1 - \pi_0)$ are each larger than 10
    • Regular (large sample) 90%, 95%, or 99% confidence interval: number of successes and number of failures in sample are each 15 or more
    • Plus four 90%, 95%, or 99% confidence interval: total sample size is 10 or more
  • Sample is a simple random sample from the population. That is, observations are independent of one another
If the sample size is too small for $z$ to be approximately normally distributed, the binomial test for a single proportion should be used.
Test statisticTest statistic
$W = $ number of difference scores that is larger than 0$z = \dfrac{p - \pi_0}{\sqrt{\dfrac{\pi_0(1 - \pi_0)}{N}}}$
Here $p$ is the sample proportion of successes: $\dfrac{X}{N}$, $N$ is the sample size, and $\pi_0$ is the population proportion of successes according to the null hypothesis.
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 the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.
Approximately the standard normal distribution
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.Approximate $C\%$ confidence interval for $\pi$
-Regular (large sample):
  • $p \pm z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{p(1 - p)}{N}}$
    where the critical value $z^*$ 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)
With plus four method:
  • $p_{plus} \pm z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{p_{plus}(1 - p_{plus})}{N + 4}}$
    where $p_{plus} = \dfrac{X + 2}{N + 4}$ and the critical value $z^*$ 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)
Equivalent toEquivalent to
Two sided sign test is equivalent to
  • When testing two sided: goodness of fit test, with a categorical variable with 2 levels.
  • When $N$ is large, the $p$ value from the $z$ test for a single proportion approaches the $p$ value from the binomial test for a single proportion. The $z$ test for a single proportion is just a large sample approximation of the binomial test for a single proportion.
Example contextExample context
Do people tend to score higher on mental health after a mindfulness course?Is the proportion of smokers amongst office workers different from $\pi_0 = 0.2$? Use the normal approximation for the sampling distribution of the test statistic.
SPSSSPSS
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
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > Binomial...
  • Put your dichotomous variable in the box below Test Variable List
  • Fill in the value for $\pi_0$ in the box next to Test Proportion
If computation time allows, SPSS will give you the exact $p$ value based on the binomial distribution, rather than the approximate $p$ value based on the normal distribution
JamoviJamovi
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
Frequencies > 2 Outcomes - Binomial test
  • Put your dichotomous variable in the white box at the right
  • Fill in the value for $\pi_0$ in the box next to Test value
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
Jamovi will give you the exact $p$ value based on the binomial distribution, rather than the approximate $p$ value based on the normal distribution
Practice questionsPractice questions