Sign test - overview

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Sign test
Binomial test for a single proportion
One sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test
Chi-squared test for the relationship between two categorical variables
Independent variableIndependent variableIndependent variableIndependent /column variable
2 paired groupsNoneNoneOne categorical with $I$ independent groups ($I \geqslant 2$)
Dependent variableDependent variableDependent variableDependent /row variable
One of ordinal levelOne categorical with 2 independent groupsOne of ordinal levelOne categorical with $J$ independent groups ($J \geqslant 2$)
Null 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: $m = m_0$

Here $m$ is the population median, and $m_0$ is the population median according to the null hypothesis.
H0: there is no association between the row and column variable

More precisely, if there are $I$ independent random samples of size $n_i$ from each of $I$ populations, defined by the independent variable:
  • H0: the distribution of the dependent variable is the same in each of the $I$ populations
If there is one random sample of size $N$ from the total population:
  • H0: the row and column variables are independent
Alternative 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: $m \neq m_0$
H1 right sided: $m > m_0$
H1 left sided: $m < m_0$
H1: there is an association between the row and column variable

More precisely, if there are $I$ independent random samples of size $n_i$ from each of $I$ populations, defined by the independent variable:
  • H1: the distribution of the dependent variable is not the same in all of the $I$ populations
If there is one random sample of size $N$ from the total population:
  • H1: the row and column variables are dependent
AssumptionsAssumptionsAssumptionsAssumptions
  • 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 scores is symmetric
  • Sample is a simple random sample from the population. That is, observations are independent of one another
  • Sample size is large enough for $X^2$ to be approximately chi-squared distributed under the null hypothesis. Rule of thumb:
    • 2 $\times$ 2 table: all four expected cell counts are 5 or more
    • Larger than 2 $\times$ 2 tables: average of the expected cell counts is 5 or more, smallest expected cell count is 1 or more
  • There are $I$ independent simple random samples from each of $I$ populations defined by the independent variable, or there is one simple random sample from the total population
Test 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 $\mbox{sign}_d = \mbox{sgn}(\mbox{score} - m_0)$. 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 $|\mbox{score} - m_0|$.
  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.
$X^2 = \sum{\frac{(\mbox{observed cell count} - \mbox{expected cell count})^2}{\mbox{expected cell count}}}$
Here for each cell, the expected cell count = $\dfrac{\mbox{row total} \times \mbox{column total}}{\mbox{total sample size}}$, the observed cell count is the observed sample count in that same cell, and the sum is over all $I \times J$ cells.
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 $X^2$ 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.
Approximately the chi-squared distribution with $(I - 1) \times (J - 1)$ degrees of freedom
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:
  • 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 $\alpha$
Equivalent ton.a.n.a.n.a.
Two sided sign test is equivalent to ---
Example 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 mental health score of office workers different from $m_0 = 50$?Is there an association between economic class and gender? Is the distribution of economic class different between men and women?
SPSSSPSSSPSSSPSS
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
Specify the measurement level of your variable on the Variable View tab, in the column named Measure. Then go to:

Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > One Sample...
  • On the Objective tab, choose Customize Analysis
  • On the Fields tab, specify the variable for which you want to compute the Wilcoxon signed-rank test
  • On the Settings tab, choose Customize tests and check the box for 'Compare median to hypothesized (Wilcoxon signed-rank test)'. Fill in your $m_0$ in the box next to Hypothesized median
  • Click Run
  • Double click on the output table to see the full results
Analyze > Descriptive Statistics > Crosstabs...
  • Put one of your two categorical variables in the box below Row(s), and the other categorical variable in the box below Column(s)
  • Click the Statistics... button, and click on the square in front of Chi-square
  • Continue and click OK
JamoviJamoviJamoviJamovi
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 > One Sample T-Test
  • Put your variable in the box below Dependent Variables
  • Under Tests, select Wilcoxon rank
  • Under Hypothesis, fill in the value for $m_0$ in the box next to Test Value, and select your alternative hypothesis
Frequencies > Independent Samples - $\chi^2$ test of association
  • Put one of your two categorical variables in the box below Rows, and the other categorical variable in the box below Columns
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