What is a Test Hypothesis?

Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Whether it is answering a statistical question or developing the methods for a chemistry experiment, a test hypothesis is fundamental in science. Learn what a test hypothesis is and why it is such an important concept to understand.

Put it to the Test

Science, in general, has millions of methods and procedures available to aid in solving problems, ranging from the basic to the complex. Okay, so 'millions' may be an exaggeration, but there are numerous methods available when you seek to answer a scientific question.

A test hypothesis is of no exception, when it comes to methods. As a matter of fact, the development of a test hypothesis belongs to a larger framework called the scientific method. Now, what is the scientific method and how does this apply to a test hypothesis?

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method is a systematic approach taken when scientific questions need to be answered. Think of this method as your recipe booklet for all of your favorite meals. In a given recipe you have the ingredients list, steps to make the meal, and even hints/tips to ensure your meal receives rave reviews. The Scientific Method follows the same principle.

There are four parts:

(1) Ask your scientific question -- what is it that you would like to learn more about?

(2) Conduct background research -- learn more about what you are interested in solving

(3) Formulate a test hypothesis - what do you seek to prove or disprove given your question?

(4) Collect data and run experiments.

A very broad method, this gives scientists a great outline to work from when they're on the quest for a scientific discovery. We will focus on number 3 -- formulation of a test hypothesis.

Test Hypothesis: Explained

A test hypothesis is a statement that proposes an explanation using limited scientific evidence. When you see the word hypothesis, think of the term educational guess. With a hypothesis you are 'guessing' what may or may not happen after your scientific question is answered. You may think that guessing is a little risky, but what is science without a little risk-taking? The beauty of writing a hypothesis is that you are stating not only what you hope to be the end outcome, but also the alternative. This leads us to the next point, that there are two parts to writing a test hypothesis.

Two Parts

When writing your hypothesis, there are two terms to keep in mind. The first term is called a null hypothesis. A null hypothesis (Ho) is the statement that proposes there is no difference between what you observe and the standard (i.e. control) it is compared to. This part of the hypothesis is what you seek to disprove.

The second term is called an alternative hypothesis. The alternative hypothesis (Ha) is a statement proposing there is difference between what you observe and the standard (i.e.) it is compared to. Now this is the hypothesis we like; it is what we seek to prove to be true.

Keep in mind that the word control, or standard refers to a variable that is constant. Think of control as something that doesn't change or is a reference source. If our observations fluctuate in number count, don't behave the way we expect them to, etc., we can still arrive at a sound justification to our findings simply because our friend control is present. Now that we understand what a test hypothesis is, let's practice writing one given a scenario.

That Was Easy! Test Hypothesis Practice

Remember that when writing a test hypothesis you have two parts, the null and alternative. We will write both of these statements for the example shown.

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