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What Is a Frequency Distribution?

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A frequency distribution is a summary of how often different scores occur within a sample of scores.

For example, let’s suppose that you are collecting data on how many hours of sleep college students get each night. After conducting a survey of 30 of your classmates, you are left with the following set of scores:

7, 5, 8, 9, 4, 10, 7, 9, 9, 6, 5, 11, 6, 5, 9, 10, 8, 6, 9, 7, 9, 8, 4, 7, 8, 7, 6, 10, 4, 8

In order to make sense of this information, you need to find a way to organize the data. A frequency distribution is commonly used to categorize information so that it can be interpreted quickly in a visual way. In our example above, the number of hours each week serves as the categories and the occurrences of each number are then tallied.

Using the information from a frequency distribution, researchers can then calculate the mean, median, mode, range and standard deviation. Frequency distributions are often displayed in a table format (as you can see in the example found below), but they can also be presented graphically using a histogram.

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Example of a Frequency Distribution

Hours of Sleep Each Night Frequency
4 3
5 3
6 4
7 5
8 5
9 6
10 3
11 1
Total 30

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