Chapter 12. Evidence

Interpreting SAT scores

Suppose you are the Dean of Admission at a small engineering college in Massachusetts, and you are considering two candidates, Alice and Bob, whose qualifications are similar in many ways, with the exception that Alice got a higher score on the Math portion of the SAT, a standardized test intended to measure preparation for college-level work in mathematics.

If Alice got 780 and Bob got a 740 (out of a possible 800), you might want to know whether that difference is evidence that Alice is better prepared than Bob, and what the strength of that evidence is.

Now in reality, both scores are very good, and both candidates are probably well prepared for college math. So the real Dean of Admission would probably suggest that we choose the candidate who best demonstrates the other skills and attitudes we look for in students. But as an example of Bayesian hypothesis testing, let’s stick with a narrower question: “How strong is the evidence that Alice is better prepared than Bob?”

To answer that question, we need to make some modeling decisions. I’ll start with a simplification I know is wrong; then we’ll come back and improve the model. I pretend, temporarily, that all SAT questions are equally difficult. Actually, the designers of the SAT choose questions with a range of difficulty, because that improves the ability to measure statistical differences between test-takers.

But if we choose a model where all questions are equally difficult, we can ...

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