ExplorationCalculating the Standard Deviation
When you look at the formula below, you will see that it is made up of the mean subtracted from each value, then squared. These values are added together and the final sum is divided by n-1. You might notice that this is similar to the formula for calculating the mean, and you'd be right.
The standard deviation is the average distance between each point and the mean
There are two common formulae for calculating standard deviation. We will show you both of them at here. The first one you will see highlights the fact that the standard deviation is the average distance between each point in your data and the mean.
Here is the formula for calculating the standard deviation of a sample of data. Click on any part of the formula to see a description of its role. There is help on squaring and square roots above if you need it.
It says that you subtract the mean, which is x, from each value in turn and square the result. You add all of these values together and divide the result by one less than the number of values in your data (n-1). Finally, you find the square root of the result of the division by n-1 and that is your standard deviation.
Note that any part of the formula in brackets is calculated first, for example ∑(x - x) uses the brackets to indicate that you do the subtractions first and then add up the results of all the subtractions.
In case you are wondering, we square the differences and then take square roots for two reasons:
You might see the formula for standard deviation in text books written as below. This is the same formula, but written in a way that makes it easier to calculate.
- Half the distances from the mean are positive and half are negative, so adding them up would produce a value of zero! Squaring makes numbers positive and removes that problem;
- We could leave the value squared, but square rooting it brings it back into units that match the units of the original measurements. If we measured people's heights in cm, then we can report the standard deviation in cm too.
It doesn't matter which formula you use as they both give the same result.