Sign test - overview

This page offers structured overviews of one or more selected methods. Add additional methods for comparisons by clicking on the dropdown button in the right-hand column. To practice with a specific method click the button at the bottom row of the table

Sign test
Binomial test for a single proportion
Wilcoxon signed-rank test
Cochran's Q test
McNemar's test
Independent variableIndependent variableIndependent variableIndependent/grouping variableIndependent variable
2 paired groupsNone2 paired groupsOne within subject factor ($\geq 2$ related groups)2 paired groups
Dependent variableDependent variableDependent variableDependent variableDependent variable
One of ordinal levelOne categorical with 2 independent groupsOne quantitative of interval or ratio levelOne categorical with 2 independent groupsOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Null hypothesisNull hypothesisNull hypothesisNull 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.
H0: $m = 0$

Here $m$ is the population median of the difference scores. A difference score is the difference between the first score of a pair and the second score of a pair.

Several different formulations of the null hypothesis can be found in the literature, and we do not agree with all of them. Make sure you (also) learn the one that is given in your text book or by your teacher.
H0: $\pi_1 = \pi_2 = \ldots = \pi_I$

Here $\pi_1$ is the population proportion of 'successes' for group 1, $\pi_2$ is the population proportion of 'successes' for group 2, and $\pi_I$ is the population proportion of 'successes' for group $I.$

Let's say that the scores on the dependent variable are scored 0 and 1. Then for each pair of scores, the data allow four options:

  1. First score of pair is 0, second score of pair is 0
  2. First score of pair is 0, second score of pair is 1 (switched)
  3. First score of pair is 1, second score of pair is 0 (switched)
  4. First score of pair is 1, second score of pair is 1
The null hypothesis H0 is that for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 0 while second score of pair is 1) = P(first score of pair is 1 while second score of pair is 0). That is, the probability that a pair of scores switches from 0 to 1 is the same as the probability that a pair of scores switches from 1 to 0.

Other formulations of the null hypothesis are:

  • H0: $\pi_1 = \pi_2$, where $\pi_1$ is the population proportion of ones for the first paired group and $\pi_2$ is the population proportion of ones for the second paired group
  • H0: for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 1) = P(second score of pair is 1)

Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesisAlternative 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: $\pi < \pi_0$
H1 two sided: $m \neq 0$
H1 right sided: $m > 0$
H1 left sided: $m < 0$
H1: not all population proportions are equal

The alternative hypothesis H1 is that for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 0 while second score of pair is 1) $\neq$ P(first score of pair is 1 while second score of pair is 0). That is, the probability that a pair of scores switches from 0 to 1 is not the same as the probability that a pair of scores switches from 1 to 0.

Other formulations of the alternative hypothesis are:

  • H1: $\pi_1 \neq \pi_2$
  • H1: for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 1) $\neq$ P(second score of pair is 1)

AssumptionsAssumptionsAssumptionsAssumptionsAssumptions
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
  • Sample is a simple random sample from the population. That is, observations are independent of one another
  • The population distribution of the difference scores is symmetric
  • Sample of difference scores is a simple random sample from the population of difference scores. That is, difference scores are independent of one another
Note: sometimes it considered sufficient for the data to be measured on an ordinal scale, rather than an interval or ratio scale. However, since the test statistic is based on ranked difference scores, we need to know whether a change in scores from, say, 6 to 7 is larger than/smaller than/equal to a change from 5 to 6. This is impossible to know for ordinal scales, since for these scales the size of the difference between values is meaningless.
  • Sample of 'blocks' (usually the subjects) is a simple random sample from the population. That is, blocks are independent of one another
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
Test statisticTest statisticTest statisticTest statisticTest statistic
$W = $ number of difference scores that is larger than 0$X$ = number of successes in the sampleTwo different types of test statistics can be used, but both will result in the same test outcome. We will denote the first option the $W_1$ statistic (also known as the $T$ statistic), and the second option the $W_2$ statistic. In order to compute each of the test statistics, follow the steps below:
  1. For each subject, compute the sign of the difference score $\mbox{sign}_d = \mbox{sgn}(\mbox{score}_2 - \mbox{score}_1)$. The sign is 1 if the difference is larger than zero, -1 if the diffence is smaller than zero, and 0 if the difference is equal to zero.
  2. For each subject, compute the absolute value of the difference score $|\mbox{score}_2 - \mbox{score}_1|$.
  3. Exclude subjects with a difference score of zero. This leaves us with a remaining number of difference scores equal to $N_r$.
  4. Assign ranks $R_d$ to the $N_r$ remaining absolute difference scores. The smallest absolute difference score corresponds to a rank score of 1, and the largest absolute difference score corresponds to a rank score of $N_r$. If there are ties, assign them the average of the ranks they occupy.
Then compute the test statistic:

  • $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{+}$
    or
    $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{-}$
    That is, sum all ranks corresponding to a positive difference or sum all ranks corresponding to a negative difference. Theoratically, both definitions will result in the same test outcome. However:
    • tables with critical values for $W_1$ are usually based on the smaller of $\sum\, R_d^{+}$ and $\sum\, R_d^{-}$. So if you are using such a table, pick the smaller one.
    • If you are using the normal approximation to find the $p$ value, it makes things most straightforward if you use $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{+}$ (if you use $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{-}$, the right and left sided alternative hypotheses 'flip').
  • $W_2 = \sum\, \mbox{sign}_d \times R_d$
    That is, for each remaining difference score, multiply the rank of the absolute difference score by the sign of the difference score, and then sum all of the products.
If a failure is scored as 0 and a success is scored as 1:

$Q = k(k - 1) \dfrac{\sum_{groups} \Big (\mbox{group total} - \frac{\mbox{grand total}}{k} \Big)^2}{\sum_{blocks} \mbox{block total} \times (k - \mbox{block total})}$

Here $k$ is the number of related groups (usually the number of repeated measurements), a group total is the sum of the scores in a group, a block total is the sum of the scores in a block (usually a subject), and the grand total is the sum of all the scores.

Before computing $Q$, first exclude blocks with equal scores in all $k$ groups.
$X^2 = \dfrac{(b - c)^2}{b + c}$
Here $b$ is the number of pairs in the sample for which the first score is 0 while the second score is 1, and $c$ is the number of pairs in the sample for which the first score is 1 while the second score is 0.
Sampling distribution of $W$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $X$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $W_1$ and of $W_2$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $Q$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $X^2$ 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.
Binomial($n$, $P$) distribution.

Here $n = N$ (total sample size), and $P = \pi_0$ (population proportion according to the null hypothesis).
Sampling distribution of $W_1$:
If $N_r$ is large, $W_1$ is approximately normally distributed with mean $\mu_{W_1}$ and standard deviation $\sigma_{W_1}$ if the null hypothesis were true. Here $$\mu_{W_1} = \frac{N_r(N_r + 1)}{4}$$ $$\sigma_{W_1} = \sqrt{\frac{N_r(N_r + 1)(2N_r + 1)}{24}}$$ Hence, if $N_r$ is large, the standardized test statistic $$z = \frac{W_1 - \mu_{W_1}}{\sigma_{W_1}}$$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.

Sampling distribution of $W_2$:
If $N_r$ is large, $W_2$ is approximately normally distributed with mean $0$ and standard deviation $\sigma_{W_2}$ if the null hypothesis were true. Here $$\sigma_{W_2} = \sqrt{\frac{N_r(N_r + 1)(2N_r + 1)}{6}}$$ Hence, if $N_r$ is large, the standardized test statistic $$z = \frac{W_2}{\sigma_{W_2}}$$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.

If $N_r$ is small, the exact distribution of $W_1$ or $W_2$ should be used.

Note: if ties are present in the data, the formula for the standard deviations $\sigma_{W_1}$ and $\sigma_{W_2}$ is more complicated.
If the number of blocks (usually the number of subjects) is large, approximately the chi-squared distribution with $k - 1$ degrees of freedom

If $b + c$ is large enough (say, > 20), approximately the chi-squared distribution with 1 degree of freedom.

If $b + c$ is small, the Binomial($n$, $P$) distribution should be used, with $n = b + c$ and $P = 0.5$. In that case the test statistic becomes equal to $b$.

Significant?Significant?Significant?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:
  • Check if $X$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find two sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $X$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Right sided:
  • Check if $X$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find right sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $X$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Left sided:
  • Check if $X$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find left sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $X$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
For large samples, the table for standard normal probabilities can be used:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
If the number of blocks is large, the table with critical $X^2$ values can be used. If we denote $X^2 = Q$:
  • Check if $X^2$ observed in sample is equal to or larger than critical value $X^{2*}$ or
  • Find $p$ value corresponding to observed $X^2$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
For test statistic $X^2$:
  • Check if $X^2$ observed in sample is equal to or larger than critical value $X^{2*}$ or
  • Find $p$ value corresponding to observed $X^2$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
If $b + c$ is small, the table for the binomial distribution should be used, with as test statistic $b$:
  • Check if $b$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find two sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $b$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
Equivalent ton.a.n.a.Equivalent toEquivalent to
Two sided sign test is equivalent to --Friedman test, with a categorical dependent variable consisting of two independent groups.
Example contextExample contextExample contextExample 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 $\pi_0 = 0.2$?Is the median of the differences between the mental health scores before and after an intervention different from 0?Subjects perform three different tasks, which they can either perform correctly or incorrectly. Is there a difference in task performance between the three different tasks?Does a tv documentary about spiders change whether people are afraid (yes/no) of spiders?
SPSSSPSSSPSSSPSSSPSS
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
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 Wilcoxon test
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > K Related Samples...
  • Put the $k$ variables containing the scores for the $k$ related groups in the white box below Test Variables
  • Under Test Type, select Cochran's Q test
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 McNemar test
JamoviJamoviJamoviJamoviJamovi
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
T-Tests > Paired Samples T-Test
  • Put the two paired variables in the box below Paired Variables, one on the left side of the vertical line and one on the right side of the vertical line
  • Under Tests, select Wilcoxon rank
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
Jamovi does not have a specific option for the Cochran's Q test. However, you can do the Friedman test instead. The $p$ value resulting from this Friedman test is equivalent to the $p$ value that would have resulted from the Cochran's Q test. Go to:

ANOVA > Repeated Measures ANOVA - Friedman
  • Put the $k$ variables containing the scores for the $k$ related groups in the box below Measures
Frequencies > Paired Samples - McNemar test
  • Put one of the two paired variables in the box below Rows and the other paired variable in the box below Columns
Practice questionsPractice questionsPractice questionsPractice questionsPractice questions