Understanding z-score and z-critical value in statistics: A comprehensive guide

10 months ago

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In statistics, grasping various measures and their applications is essential for making informed decisions. Two often-used measures in statistical analysis are the z-score and z-critical value. We will delve into these topics section by section.

By the end of this article, you will clearly understand the differences between the Z score and Z value and know when to use each one for optimal statistical analysis.

What is a z-score?

A Z score, also known as a standard score, represents how many standard deviations a data point is from the mean of a set of data. It provides a way to compare the relative position of a value within a data set, allowing for standardized comparisons among different data sets or within the same data set.


The formula for calculating the Z score is:

Z = (X - μ) / σ


  • Z is the z score
  • X is the data point
  • μ is the mean of the dataset
  • σ is the standard deviation  

How to Find Z-Score?

Finding the Z-score is a standard procedure in statistics that allows you to determine how many standard deviations away a particular data point is from the mean of the dataset. The Z-score is beneficial in comparing data points across different distributions and understanding the relative positioning of data points within a distribution.

Follow these steps to find the z-score:

  • Find the Mean (μ)

If you don't have it already, compute the mean of your dataset by adding up all the values and dividing by the number of values.

  • Find the Standard Deviation (σ)

This is a measure of the amount of variation or dispersion in a set of values. You'll first find the variance by taking the average of the squared differences from the mean. Then, the standard deviation is the square root of the variance. There are formulas and tools available for computing this.

  • Plug in the Values
  1. Subtract the mean from your specific data point (X−μ).
  2. Divide the result by the standard deviation.

Here's an example to learn how to calculate the Z-score.


We have a dataset of exam scores for a group of students. The mean score of the set is 75 and the standard deviation is 10. If a student scored 85 on the exam. Determine the Z score.


Step 1: Given values are:

Mean = μ = 75

Data point = X = 85

Standard deviation = σ = 10

Z =?

Step 2: Take the formula and substitute the values in it.

Z score = Z = (X - μ) / σ

Putting the values:

Z = (85 - 75) / 10

Z = 1

This tells us that the Z score is 1 it is indicating that the student’s score is one standard deviation above the mean.

What is a z critical value?

A z critical value, often referred to as a critical value, is the number of standard deviations a data point needs to be from the mean to be considered statistically significant in a hypothesis test. It is closely associated with the concept of confidence levels and significance levels in hypothesis testing.

In simpler terms, the critical value is a cutoff point that helps determine whether or not the observed effect in the sample is statistically significant in the population.

How to find z critical value?

The Z critical value is found based on a prearranged significance level (often denoted as α) or confidence level.

The process to find the Z critical value can be described step by step:

For a Given Confidence Level:

Determine the total area for the two tails. If you have a 95% confidence level, the two tails combined would contain 5% (or 0.05) of the area under the standard normal curve because it is a two-tailed test. Each tail would then contain half of this, so 0.025 or 2.5%.

Using a standard normal (Z) table or calculator, find the Z value that corresponds to the cumulative probability of 1−0.025=0.9751−0.025=0.975 (for the right tail).

This Z value is your critical Z value. For a 95% confidence level, it would be approximately ±1.96.

For a Given Significance Level (α):

Decide if the test is one-tailed or two-tailed.

  • For a two-tailed test: Divide α by 2. For α=0.05, this would give 0.025. Then, find the Z value corresponding to the cumulative probability of 1−0.025=0.9751−0.025=0.975 for the right tail. This Z value will be approximately ±1.96.
  • For a right-tailed (upper) one-tailed test: Find the Z value corresponding to the cumulative probability of 1−α. For α=0.05, this would be 0.95. The Z value is approximately +1.645.
  • For a left-tailed (lower) one-tailed test: Find the Z value corresponding to the cumulative probability of α. For α=0.05, this Z value is approximately -1.645.

The exact Z critical values might differ slightly depending on the source of the Z-table and Z critical value calculator.

Differences between z-score and z-critical value:

The Z-score and Z critical values both pertain to the standard normal distribution, but they serve different purposes and have different interpretations in statistics. Here's a breakdown of their differences:

Z Score

Z Critical Value

It represents how many standard deviations away a particular data point is from the mean of the dataset.

It's a threshold set based on a desired significance or confidence level. This value determines the boundary for where the extreme values lie under the standard normal distribution, especially in hypothesis testing.

Used to standardize a data point to compare it against a normal distribution. It gives a sense of how unusual or typical a data point is.

Used as a threshold in hypothesis testing to determine whether to reject the null hypothesis or to construct confidence intervals.

Calculated using the formula: Z = [X−μ]/ σ

Derived from the standard normal distribution table or using calculators based on the desired significance level (α) or confidence level.

A positive Z-score indicates the data point is above the mean, and a negative Z-score indicates it's below the mean. The magnitude shows how many standard deviations away from the mean the data point is.

Represents the cutoff beyond which data points are considered statistically significant. For instance, a Z critical value of 1.96 (for α=0.05) means that data points more than 1.96 standard deviations away from the mean are in the top 5% of the data, assuming a two-tailed test.

Commonly used in descriptive statistics, standardizing scores, comparing data points across different distributions, and understanding the relative positioning within a distribution.

Primarily used in inferential statistics, specifically in hypothesis testing and when constructing confidence intervals.

When to Use Z Score & Z Critical Value?

Both the Z-score and the Z critical value are grounded in the standard normal distribution, but they are used in different contexts. Here's when to use each:

Z-score (Standard Score)

  • Data Standardization: When you want to convert raw scores into standardized scores so they can be compared across different datasets or distributions. This is particularly useful when datasets have different means and standard deviations.
  • Descriptive Analysis: To understand how unusual or typical a particular data point is within its distribution. A Z-score can tell you how many standard deviations a point is from the mean.
  • Comparisons across Different Distributions: For instance, comparing SAT scores in Math and English. If you want to find out in which subject a student performed relatively better compared to peers, you'd use Z-scores.
  • Detection of Outliers: A data point with a very high (or very low) Z-score might be considered an outlier.

Z Critical Value

Hypothesis Testing:

  • Determining Rejection Regions: The Z critical value helps determine whether you should reject the null hypothesis. If your calculated Z-score exceeds the Z critical value (in absolute value), then you'd typically reject the null hypothesis.
  • One-tailed vs. Two-tailed Tests: The side and the number of tails in your test will determine which Z critical values you use. For instance, a two-tailed test with a significance level of 0.05 will have critical values of -1.96 and +1.96.

Constructing Confidence Intervals:

When you want to estimate an interval for a population parameter based on sample data. For a 95% confidence interval for a normally distributed population (where the population standard deviation is known), you'd use the Z critical value of ±1.96 to construct the interval.

Determination of Sample Size:

When planning an experiment or survey and you want a certain confidence level and margin of error, the Z critical value is used to calculate the necessary sample size.


The Z-score and Z critical value are essential statistical measures that play distinct roles in data analysis. The Z-score measures the distance of a data point from the mean in terms of standard deviations, while the Z critical value sets threshold values used for hypothesis testing.

Understanding the differences between these two measures is crucial for making accurate statistical inferences and informed decisions across various fields. So, whether you’re analyzing exam scores or conducting complex research, remember to use the appropriate measure, as it can significantly impact the outcome of your analysis.


Question 1:

Is the Z value always positive?


Yes, the Z value is always non-negative, as it represents the number of standard deviations a given value is from the mean.

Question 2:

What is the significance of the Z value in hypothesis testing?


The Z value, also known as the critical value, helps in hypothesis testing by determining the probability of observing a value within a specific range from the mean. It assists in making decisions about accepting or rejecting the null hypothesis.

Question 3:

Can the Z score be negative?


Yes. The Z score can be negative if the data point is below the mean of the dataset.

Question 4:

What is the purpose of using the Z score in statistics?


The Z score is used to standardize data and determine how far a data point is from the mean of a dataset. It helps in comparing different data points on a common scale and makes it easier to analyze and interpret the data.

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