Predicting Test Scores

You are amiddles chool principal and your 100 eighth-graders are about to take a national standardized test. The test is designed so that the mean score is μ=400 with a standard deviation of σ=70. Assume the scores are normally distributed.

- What is the likelihood that
*one*of your eighth-graders, selected at random, will score below 375 on the exam? - Your performance as a principal depends on how well your entire
*group*of eighth-graders scores on the exam. What is the likelihood that your group of 100 eighth-graders will have a*mean*score of 375?

Solution

- In dealing with an individual score, we use the method of standard scores (z-scores). Given the mean of 400 and a standard deviation of 70, a score of 375 has a standard score of

* z* = data value – mean/ standard deviation

= 375 – 400/ 70

= -0.36

Since a z-score of -0.36 corresponds to about the 36th percentile, then 36% of the students are expected to score below 375. So there is a 0.36 chance that a randomly selected student will score below 375. **Remember**: We need to know that the scores have a normal distribution for us to make this calculation because z-scores only apply to normal distributions.

2. The question about the mean of a *group* of students must be handled with the Central Limit Theorem. According to this theorem, if we take random samples of size *n =*100 students and compute the mean test score for the group, the distribution of means is approximately normal. Moreover, the mean of this distribution is μ = 400 and its standard deviation is σ/√*n *or 70/√100 = 7. With these values for the mean and standard deviation, the standard score for a mean test score of 375 is

*z* = 375 – 400 / 7 = -3.57

Since z-score of -3.5 corresponds to the 0.02th percentile, and the standard score in this case is even lower, we can say that fewer than 0,02% of all random samples of 100 students will have a mean score of less than 375. Therefore the chance that a randomly selected group of 100 students will have a mean score below 375 is less than 0.0002, or about 1 in 5,000. **Notice **that this calculation regarding the group mean did *not* depend upon the individual scores having a normal distribution.

The likelihood of an *individual* scoring below 375 is more than 1 in 3 (36%), but the likelihood of a *group* of 100 students having a mean score below 375 is less than 1 in 5,000 (0.02%). In other words, there is much more variation in the scores of individuals than in the means of groups of individuals.