Hypothesis Testing (cont...)
The null and alternative hypothesis
In order to undertake hypothesis testing you need to express your research hypothesis as a null and alternative hypothesis. The null hypothesis and alternative hypothesis are statements regarding the differences or effects that occur in the population. You will use your sample to test which statement (i.e., the null hypothesis or alternative hypothesis) is most likely (although technically, you test the evidence against the null hypothesis). So, with respect to our teaching example, the null and alternative hypothesis will reflect statements about all statistics students on graduate management courses.
The null hypothesis is essentially the "devil's advocate" position. That is, it assumes that whatever you are trying to prove did not happen (hint: it usually states that something equals zero). For example, the two different teaching methods did not result in different exam performances (i.e., zero difference). Another example might be that there is no relationship between anxiety and athletic performance (i.e., the slope is zero). The alternative hypothesis states the opposite and is usually the hypothesis you are trying to prove (e.g., the two different teaching methods did result in different exam performances). Initially, you can state these hypotheses in more general terms (e.g., using terms like "effect", "relationship", etc.), as shown below for the teaching methods example:
|Null Hypotheses (H0):||Undertaking seminar classes has no effect on students' performance.|
|Alternative Hypothesis (HA):||Undertaking seminar class has a positive effect on students' performance.|
Depending on how you want to "summarize" the exam performances will determine how you might want to write a more specific null and alternative hypothesis. For example, you could compare the mean exam performance of each group (i.e., the "seminar" group and the "lectures-only" group). This is what we will demonstrate here, but other options include comparing the distributions, medians, amongst other things. As such, we can state:
|Null Hypotheses (H0):||The mean exam mark for the "seminar" and "lecture-only" teaching methods is the same in the population.|
|Alternative Hypothesis (HA):||The mean exam mark for the "seminar" and "lecture-only" teaching methods is not the same in the population.|
Now that you have identified the null and alternative hypotheses, you need to find evidence and develop a strategy for declaring your "support" for either the null or alternative hypothesis. We can do this using some statistical theory and some arbitrary cut-off points. Both these issues are dealt with next.
The level of statistical significance is often expressed as the so-called p-value. Depending on the statistical test you have chosen, you will calculate a probability (i.e., the p-value) of observing your sample results (or more extreme) given that the null hypothesis is true. Another way of phrasing this is to consider the probability that a difference in a mean score (or other statistic) could have arisen based on the assumption that there really is no difference. Let us consider this statement with respect to our example where we are interested in the difference in mean exam performance between two different teaching methods. If there really is no difference between the two teaching methods in the population (i.e., given that the null hypothesis is true), how likely would it be to see a difference in the mean exam performance between the two teaching methods as large as (or larger than) that which has been observed in your sample?
So, you might get a p-value such as 0.03 (i.e., p = .03). This means that there is a 3% chance of finding a difference as large as (or larger than) the one in your study given that the null hypothesis is true. However, you want to know whether this is "statistically significant". Typically, if there was a 5% or less chance (5 times in 100 or less) that the difference in the mean exam performance between the two teaching methods (or whatever statistic you are using) is as different as observed given the null hypothesis is true, you would reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis. Alternately, if the chance was greater than 5% (5 times in 100 or more), you would fail to reject the null hypothesis and would not accept the alternative hypothesis. As such, in this example where p = .03, we would reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis. We reject it because at a significance level of 0.03 (i.e., less than a 5% chance), the result we obtained could happen too frequently for us to be confident that it was the two teaching methods that had an effect on exam performance.
Whilst there is relatively little justification why a significance level of 0.05 is used rather than 0.01 or 0.10, for example, it is widely used in academic research. However, if you want to be particularly confident in your results, you can set a more stringent level of 0.01 (a 1% chance or less; 1 in 100 chance or less).