What is a 'Two-Tailed Test'

A two-tailed test is a statistical test in which the critical area of a distribution is two-sided and tests whether a sample is greater than or less than a certain range of values. If the sample being tested falls into either of the critical areas, the alternative hypothesis is accepted instead of the null hypothesis. The two-tailed test gets its name from testing the area under both of the tails of a normal distribution, although the test can be used in other non-normal distributions.

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BREAKING DOWN 'Two-Tailed Test'

A two-tailed test is designed to examine both sides of a specified data range as designated by the probability distribution involved. The probability distribution should represent the likelihood of a specified outcome based on predetermined standards. This requires the setting of a limit designating the highest, or upper, and lowest, or lower, accepted variable values included within the range. Any data point that exists above the upper limit or below the lower limit is considered out of the acceptance range and in an area referred to as the rejection range.

There is no inherent standard in regards to the number of data points that must exist within the acceptance range. In instances where precision is required, such as in the creation of pharmaceuticals, a rejection rate of 0.001% or less may be instituted. In instances where precision is less critical, such as the number of food items in a bag of product, a rejection rate of 5% may be appropriate.

Using a Two-Tailed Test

A two-tailed test can be used during certain production activities, such as with the production and packaging of candy at a particular facility. If the production facility designates 50 candies per bag as its goal, with an acceptable distribution of 45 to 55 candies, any bag found with an amount below 45 or above 55 is considered within the rejection range.

Random Sampling

To confirm the packaging mechanisms are properly calibrated to meet the expected output, a random sampling may be taken to confirm accuracy. For the packaging mechanisms to be considered accurate, an average of 50 candies per bag with an appropriate distribution is desired. Additionally, the number of bags that fall within the rejection range need to fall within the probability distribution limit considered acceptable as an error rate.

If an unacceptable rejection rate is discovered, or an average deviating too far from the desired mean, adjustments to the facility or associated equipment may be required to correct the error. Regular use of two-tailed testing methods can help ensure production stays within limits over the long term.

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