One-sample tests are useful to compare a set of values to a given default value. For example, one might ask if a set of five-point Likert scores are significantly different from a “default” or “neutral” score of 3. Another use might be to compare a current set of values to a previously published value.
The one-sample Wilcoxon test is a rank-based test that begins with calculating the difference between the observed values and the default value. Because of this subtraction operation in the calculations, the data are assumed to be interval. That is, with Likert item data with this test, the data are assumed to be numeric. For purely ordinal data, the one-sample sign test could be used instead.
The null hypothesis for the test is that the data are symmetric about the default value (except that the test is done on ranks after the distances of observations from default value are determined).
A significant result suggests either that the (ranked) data are symmetric about another value or are sufficiently skewed in one direction. In either case, this suggests that the location of the data is different from the chosen default value.
Without further assumptions about the distribution of the data, the test is not a test of the median.
• One-sample data
• Data are interval or ratio
• Null hypothesis (simplified): The population from which the data are sampled is symmetric about the default value.
• Alternative hypothesis (simplified, two-sided): The population from which the data are sampled is not symmetric about the default value.
Reporting significant results as e.g. “Likert scores were significantly different from a neutral value of 3” is acceptable.
Notes on name of test
The names used for the one-sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test and similar tests can be confusing. “Sign test” may be used, although properly the sign test is a different test. Both “signed-rank test” and “sign test” are sometimes used to refer to either one-sample or two-sample tests.
The best advice is to use a name specific to the test being used.
Other notes and alternative tests
Some authors recommend this test only in cases where the data are symmetric. It is my understanding that this requirement is only for the test to be considered a test of the median.
For ordinal data or for a test specifically about the median, the sign test can be used.
Packages used in this chapter
The packages used in this chapter include:
The following commands will install these packages if they are not already installed:
One-sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test example
This example will re-visit the Maggie Simpson data from the Descriptive Statistics for Likert Data chapter.
The example answers the question, “Are Maggie’s scores significantly different from a ‘neutral’ score of 3?”
The test will be conducted with the wilcox.test function, which produces a p-value for the hypothesis, as well a pseudo-median and confidence interval.
Data = read.table(header=TRUE, stringsAsFactors=TRUE, text="
Speaker Rater Likert
'Maggie Simpson' 1 3
'Maggie Simpson' 2 4
'Maggie Simpson' 3 5
'Maggie Simpson' 4 4
'Maggie Simpson' 5 4
'Maggie Simpson' 6 4
'Maggie Simpson' 7 4
'Maggie Simpson' 8 3
'Maggie Simpson' 9 2
'Maggie Simpson' 10 5
### Create a new variable which is the likert scores as an ordered factor
Data$Likert.f = factor(Data$Likert,
ordered = TRUE)
### Check the data frame
Summarize data treating Likert scores as factors
Note that the variable we want to count is Likert.f, which is a factor variable. Counts for Likert.f are cross tabulated over values of Speaker. The prop.table function translates a table into proportions. The margin=1 option indicates that the proportions are calculated for each row.
xtabs( ~ Speaker + Likert.f,
data = Data)
Speaker 2 3 4 5
Maggie Simpson 1 2 5 2
XT = xtabs( ~ Speaker + Likert.f,
data = Data)
margin = 1)
Speaker 2 3 4 5
Maggie Simpson 0.1 0.2 0.5 0.2
XT = xtabs(~ Likert.f,
Summarize data treating Likert scores as numeric
Summarize(Likert ~ Speaker,
Speaker n mean sd min Q1 median Q3 max percZero
1 Maggie Simpson 10 3.8 0.919 2 3.25 4 4 5 0
One-sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test
In the wilcox.test function, the mu option indicates the value of the default value to compare to. In this example Data$Likert is the one-sample set of values on which to conduct the test. For the meaning of other options, see ?wilcox.test.
Wilcoxon signed rank test with continuity correction
V = 32.5, p-value = 0.04007
alternative hypothesis: true location is not equal to 3
### Note p-value in the output above
### You will get the "cannot compute exact p-value with ties" error
### You can ignore this, or use the exact=FALSE option.
95 percent confidence interval:
### Note that the output will also produce a pseudo-median value
### and a confidence interval if the conf.int=TRUE option is used.
Exact Wilcoxon signed rank test
V = 32.5, p-value = 0.05469
alternative hypothesis: true mu is not equal to 3
95 percent confidence interval:
I am not aware of any established effect size statistic for the one-sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test. However, a version of the rank biserial correlation coefficient (rc) can be used. This is my recommendation. It is included for the matched pairs case in King, Rosopa, and Minimum (2000).
As an alternative, using a statistic analogous to the r used in the Mann–Whitney test may make sense.
The following interpretation is based on my personal intuition. It is not intended to be universal.
0.10 – < 0.30
0.30 – < 0.50
0.10 – < 0.40
0.40 – < 0.60
Rank biserial correlation coefficient
wilcoxonOneSampleRC(Data$Likert, mu=3, ci=TRUE)
rc lower.ci upper.ci
0.806 0.333 1
wilcoxonOneSampleR(Data$Likert, mu=3, ci=TRUE)
r lower.ci upper.ci
0.674 0.2 0.914
King, B.M., P.J. Rosopa, E.W. and Minium. 2000. Statistical Reasoning in the Behavioral Sciences, 6th. Wiley.
1. Considering Maggie Simpson’s data,
a. What was her median score?
b. What were the first and third quartiles for her scores?
c. According to the one-sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test, are
her scores significantly different from a neutral score of 3?
d. Is the confidence interval output from the test useful in answering the previous question?
e. Overall, how would you summarize her results? Be sure to address the practical implication of her scores compared with a neutral score of 3.
f. Do these results reflect what you would expect from looking
at the bar plot?
2. Brian Griffin wants to assess the education level of students in his course on creative writing for adults. He wants to know the median education level of his class, and if the education level of his class is different from the typical Bachelor’s level.
Brian used the following table to code his data.
Code Abbreviation Level
1 < HS Less than high school
2 HS High school
3 BA Bachelor’s
4 MA Master’s
5 PhD Doctorate
The following are his course data.
Instructor Student Education
'Brian Griffin' a 3
'Brian Griffin' b 2
'Brian Griffin' c 3
'Brian Griffin' d 3
'Brian Griffin' e 3
'Brian Griffin' f 3
'Brian Griffin' g 4
'Brian Griffin' h 5
'Brian Griffin' i 3
'Brian Griffin' j 4
'Brian Griffin' k 3
'Brian Griffin' l 2
For each of the following, answer the question, and show
the output from the analyses you used to answer the question.
a. What was the median education level? (Be sure to report the education level, not just the numeric code!)
b. What were the first and third quartiles for education level?
b. According to the one-sample Wilcoxon signed-rank test, are the
education levels significantly different from a typical level of Bachelor’s?
e. Is the confidence interval output from the test useful in answering the previous question?
f. Overall, how would you summarize the results? Be sure to address the practical implications.
g. Plot Brian’s data in a way that helps you visualize the data.
h. Do the results reflect what you would expect from looking at the plot?