PROPHET StatGuide: Examining normality test results


All the following results are provided as part of a PROPHET normality test analysis.

Results for sample values:


Kolmogorov-Smirnov test:
The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test can be applied to test whether data follow any specified distribution, not just the normal distribution. As a general test, it may not be as powerful as a test specifically designed to test for normality. Moreover, the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test becomes a conservative test (and thus loses power) if the mean and/or variance is not specified beforehand, but must be calculated from the sample data. And the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test will not indicate the type of nonnormality, say whether the distribution appears to be skewed or heavy-tailed. Examination of the calculated skewness and kurtosis, and of the histogram, boxplot, and normal probability plot for the data may provide clues as to why the data failed the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test.

Shapiro-Wilk and D'Agostino-Pearson tests:
The Shapiro-Wilk test and the D'Agostino-Pearson test are specifically designed to detect departures from normality, without requiring that the mean or variance of the hypothesized normal distribution be specified in advance. These tests tend to be more powerful than the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, but, as omnibus tests, they will not indicate the type of nonnormality, say whether the distribution appears to be skewed as opposed to heavy-tailed (or both). Examination of the calculated skewness and kurtosis, and of the histogram, boxplot, and normal probability plot for the data may provide clues as to why the data failed the Shapiro-Wilk or D'Agostino-Pearson test.

Stephens' test for normality:
The standard algorithms for the Shapiro-Wilk test only apply to sample sizes up to 2000. For larger sample sizes, Stephens' normality test is used. The test statistic is based on the Kolmogorov-Smirnov statistic for a normal distribution with the same mean and variance as the sample mean and variance. Because the published critical values for Stephens' statistic only range from 0.01 to 0.15, a sufficiently small P value for the test can only be reported as P<0.01, and a sufficiently large one only as P>0.15.

D'Agostino's test for skewness:
D'Agostino's test for skewness tests for nonnormality due to a lack of symmetry. Data sampled from a symmetric distribution may not fail the skewness test, even if the distribution is substantially light-tailed (such as a uniform distribution) or heavy-tailed (such as a Cauchy distribution, or a mixture of normal distributions with the same mean but different variances). Thus, failure to reject the null hypothesis does not necessarily mean that the data come from a normal distribution. If data fail the skewness test, the conclusion is that the underlying distribution is significantly skewed, but that does not preclude the possibility that it is also substantially heavy-tailed or light-tailed with respect to the normal distribution (as might be the case with data from a mixture of normal distributions with the same mean but different variances). Examination of the calculated kurtosis, and of the histogram, boxplot, and normal probability plot may help in detecting whether the underlying distribution might also have nonnormal tails.

Anscombe-Glynn test for kurtosis:
The Anscombe-Glynn test for kurtosis tests for nonnormality due to light or heavy tails relative to the normal distribution (nonnormal kurtosis). Data sampled from a distribution with tail heaviness comparable to that for the normal distribution may not fail the kurtosis test, even if the distribution is substantially skewed (such as a truncated normal distribution, or a mixture of normal distributions with the different means but the same variance). Thus, failure to reject the null hypothesis does not necessarily mean that the data come from a normal distribution. If data fail the kurtosis test, the conclusion is that the underlying distribution has nonnormal kurtosis, but that does not preclude the possibility that is also substantially skewed with respect to the normal distribution. Examination of the calculated skewness, and of the histogram, boxplot, and normal probability plot may help in deciding whether the underlying distribution might also be skewed.

Outliers:
Because outliers can heavily influence both the skewness and kurtosis calculated for a data sample, the presence of a few outliers in a sample from a normal distribution may cause the sample to fail a normality test. The normal probability plot may help determine whether the apparent nonnormality might be due to the presence of outliers. Knowledge of the data and how they were measured may help determine whether an apparent outlier is due to a recording error, or is actually a genuine observation from a nonnormal distribution.

Very small sample sizes:
No matter which normality test is used, it may fail to detect the actual nonnormality of the population distribution if the sample size is small (less than 10), due to a lack of power. The histogram, boxplot, and normal probability plot may also be unable to provide much information in such situations.

Very large sample sizes:
With a very large sample size (well over 1000), a normality test may detect statistically significant but unimportant deviations from normality. Unless the normal probability plot indicates a source for the nonnormality, the normality test result may not be useful in this case. This is particularly true when the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test is being used with a specified mean and variance, since the hypothesis being test is whether the underlying distribution is one with precisely that mean and variance. (A failure of a normality test because the variance is 1.01 instead of 1.00 may not be of any practical significance.)

With large sample sizes, most normal-theory-based tests like the t test are robust to nonnormality, and if the nonnormality is not apparent in the normal probability plot for a large data sample, it probably won't have a serious effect on the results of a normal-theory-based test.

Histograms:
The histogram for each sample has a reference normal distribution curve for a normal distribution with the same mean and variance as the sample. This provides a reference for detecting gross nonnormality when the sample sizes are large.

Boxplots:
Suspected outliers appear in a boxplot as individual points o or x outside the box. If these appear on both sides of the box, they also suggest the possibility of a heavy-tailed distribution. If they appear on only one side, they also suggest the possibility of a skewed distribution. Skewness is also suggested if the mean (+) does not lie on or near the central line of the boxplot, or if the central line of the boxplot does not evenly divide the box. Examples of these plots will help illustrate the various situations.

Normal probability plot:
The normal probability plot may be the single most valuable graphical aid in diagnosing how a population distribution appears to differ from a normal distribution.

For values sampled from a normal distribution, the normal probability plot, (normal Q-Q plot) has the points all lying on or near the straight line drawn through the middle half of the points. Scattered points lying away from the line are suspected outliers. Examples of these plots will help illustrate the various situations.


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Last modified: March 18, 1997

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