If you missed the simulating introduction to Continuous Variables and Normal Distributions it might be worth taking a few minutes to read.
The functional form for a normal distribution is a bit complicated. It can also be difficult to compare two variables if their mean and or standard deviations are different, for example heights in centimeters and weights in kilograms, even if both variables can be described by a normal distribution. To get around both of these conflicts we can define a new variable:(1)
This variable gives a measure of how far the variable is from the mean $(x-\mu)$ then "normalizes" it by dividing by the standard deviation $(\sigma)$. This new variable gives us a way of comparing different variables. The z-value tells us how many standard deviations or "how many sigmas" the variable is from its respective mean.
When the distribution function is expressed in terms of the z-value it is sometimes called the "standard normal distribution." You've got to love the creativity!(2)
Areas Under the Curve
To calculate the probability that a variable is within a range we have to find the area under the curve… Hooray, calculus! It turns out that there is no indefinite integral of the function! However, smart folks have figured out how to do definite integrals, but they are a bit complex so the folks who have to work with normal distributions rely on tables, which you have in your formula booklet, or calculators.
An example of the table is shown in the collapsible box below. It's as close as I could find to the one the IB gives you…
These tables can be a bit scary, but you simply need to know how to read them.
- The left most column tells you how many sigmas above the the mean to 1 decimal place.
- The top row gives the second decimal place.
- The intersection of a row and column gives the probability.
For example, if we want to know the probability that a variable is no more than 0.51 sigmas above the mean we find select the 6th row down (corresponding to 0.5) and the 2nd column (corresponding to 0.01). The intersection of the 6th row and 2nd column is 0.6950. Which tells us that there is a 69.50% percent chance that a variable is less than 0.51 sigmas above the mean…
Notice that for 0.00 sigmas the probability is 0.5000. Thus showing that there is equal probability of being above or below the mean! So nice when stuff makes sense.
Using Ti-84 to Find Areas Under the Curve
A 6 minute video showing how to get area under the normal distribution given a range of z-values. It also covers the inverse, that is going from area to z-values. This is something you need to know how to do!
Find $P(Z \leq 1.5)$
Find $P(Z \geq 1.17)$
Find $P( -1.16 \leq Z \leq 1.32)$