What Is P Hat in Statistics?

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The p hat is a symbol which stands for sample proportion. In equations, it is represented as a lower-case p with a small caret above it.

To understand what the p hat symbol represents and how it is used, the difference between a population and a sample must first be understood. In the study of statistics, the word “population” refers to the entire group that is being studied. A “sample,” on the other hand, is only a part of that group. A sample is, ideally, representative of the entire group, meaning that a statistician can study the habits, behaviors and characteristics of that small group and then generalize the findings to the entire population. In statistics, a lower-case p without a caret above it stands for “population proportion.” When a statistician calculates the population proportion, the entire group is being factored into the equation.

However, the p hat symbol is used to refer to an even smaller group: a proportion of the sample of the entire group. The p hat is often used when discussing the results of surveys. For example, a statistician asks a sample group of 500 adults if they like grape soda; 342 say yes, 100 say no and 58 have no opinion. The statistician is interested in which proportion like grape soda, so an equation will be formulated to find the p hat, or the proportion that answered “yes.” The p hat will then be expressed as a percentage or a fraction of the sample group.