How to Calculate a Z-Score: A Z Score Calculator With Step-by-Step Guide

Z Score Calculator

This calculator allows you to calculate a standardized z-score for any raw value of X. Just enter your raw score, the population mean, and standard deviation, and hit "Calculate Z-Score".

Standard Deviation (σ): 

Raw Score (X): 

A z-score is a statistical measurement that quantifies the number of standard deviations a data point is from the mean of a data set. Z-scores allow you to compare data from different normal distributions on the same scale. Calculating a z-score is useful in many statistical analyses and data science applications. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the z-score definition, the z-score formula, and include a step-by-step process for calculating z-scores.

What is a Z Score?

A z-score, also known as a standard score, is a statistic used to determine how far a value lies from the mean of a dataset, measured in standard deviations. The z-score calculation tells you how many standard deviations below or above the population mean a raw score is. 

Scores with a z-score between -1 and +1 fall within the central 68% of a normal distribution, while scores with a z-score between -2 and +2 fall within 95% of the distribution. The further the z-score is from 0 in either direction, the more standard deviations that data point is from the mean.

Using z-scores allows you to standardize datasets with different means and standard deviations. Once converted to z-scores, the values can be meaningfully compared even if the original units of measurement were different.

Z-Score Formula 

The formula to calculate a z-score is:

z = (X - μ) / σ


- z = z-score 
- X = raw score to be standardized
- μ = population mean
- σ = population standard deviation

This formula finds the difference between the raw score and the mean, divided by the standard deviation. Let's break down each component:

- **X** - This is the individual raw score in your dataset for which you want to calculate the z-score. For example, if your dataset contained exam scores, this would be a single student's exam score.

- **μ** - The Greek letter mu represents the mean (average) of the entire population dataset. For the exam score example, you would calculate the average score of all students.

- **σ** - The Greek letter sigma represents the standard deviation of the population. Standard deviation measures how dispersed the data is from the mean. For our example, you would find the standard deviation of all exam scores. 

- **Z** - The calculated z-score represents how many standard deviations the raw score (X) is above or below the mean of the population. A positive z indicates the score is above the mean, while a negative z tells you it is below.

Step-by-Step Z-Score Calculation

Calculating a z-score by hand requires following these steps:

1. **Calculate the mean** - Add up all values in the dataset and divide by the total number of data points. For example, the mean exam score from a sample of 10 students is calculated by summing all 10 scores and dividing by 10. 

2. **Calculate the standard deviation** - The standard deviation measures the amount of variance in a dataset. It is calculated by taking the square root of the variance. The variance is found by subtracting the mean from each value, squaring the differences, summing them, and dividing by the number of data points.

3. **Subtract the mean** - Take the individual raw score (X) for which you want the z-score and subtract the mean of the dataset (μ). 

4. **Divide by the standard deviation** - Take the difference from Step 3 and divide it by the standard deviation (σ) calculated in Step 2.

5. **Interpret the z-score** - The final z-score tells you how many standard deviations the raw score is from the mean. A positive number means it is above the mean, while a negative number indicates it is below.

Let's walk through an example calculation step-by-step:

1. Sample exam scores dataset = {55, 82, 75, 90, 88, 72, 68, 81, 61, 79}

2. The mean exam score is calculated as (55 + 82 + 75 + 90 + 88 + 72 + 68 + 81 + 61 + 79) / 10 = 76

3. The variance is found by:
   - Subtracting the mean 76 from each score and squaring the differences
   - Summing the squared differences: 7461
   - Dividing by 10 data points: 746.1

4. Take the square root of 746.1 to get the standard deviation: 27.3

5. Say we want to calculate the z-score for the exam score of 68:
   - Subtract the mean 76 from the score 68: 68 - 76 = -8
   - Divide the difference -8 by the standard deviation 27.3: -8 / 27.3 = -0.29

6. The z-score is -0.29. Since it is negative, this signifies the exam score of 68 is 0.29 standard deviations below the mean score of 76.

Following these steps allows you to calculate z-scores manually for statistical analysis.

Z-Score Calculator

While you can compute z-scores by hand, it's easier and faster to use an online z-score calculator. These tools do the work for you once you input your raw score, the mean, and standard deviation.

Many statistical software packages and programming languages like Python also include functions to easily find z-scores:

- In Excel, the Z.TEST function returns the z-score
- R has a scale() function to calculate z-scores
- Python's scipy.stats module contains a zscore() method

Leveraging these tools makes finding z-scores a breeze.

Z-Score Formula in Excel

Excel has built-in functions to compute z-scores for your data analysis needs. The most straightforward way is using =STANDSARDIZE(x, mean, standard_dev). 

For example, with exam scores in cells A2 through A11, and the mean and standard deviation pre-calculated in B1 and B2:

- To find the z-score for the exam score in A5, use =STANDARDIZE(A5,B1,B2)
- Drag or copy this down to get z-scores for every score

You can also use =(A2-B1)/B2, but STANDARDIZE saves you time.

Other relevant Excel functions include:

- =AVERAGE() to calculate the sample mean
- =STDEV() for sample standard deviation 
- =STDEV.P() for population standard deviation

Mastering these functions allows fast z-score computation in Excel.

Z-Score Examples

Let's look at some examples of how z-scores are applied:

- In **finance**, z-scores determine if a stock is over/undervalued compared to peers or the broader market based on metrics like P/E ratio. A z-score near 0 means it's fairly valued.

- For **standardized testing** like the SAT, test scores are converted to z-scores to standardize across different versions of the exam. Your score reflects how many standard deviations above or below the mean you performed relative to other test takers.

- **Hospitals** may calculate z-scores for metrics like average length of stay by department. A high positive z-score indicates patients are staying much longer than the average.

- Machine learning algorithms like **k-nearest neighbors** use z-score normalization to rescale features to a common scale before computing distances between data points.

As you can see, z-scores have many useful applications in statistics and data science.

Interpreting Z-Scores

When you calculate a z-score, you need to know how to properly interpret it:

- A **positive z-score** means the raw score is above the mean. A higher positive value indicates it is further from the average.

- A **negative z-score** signifies the data point is below the average. A lower negative value means it deviates further from the mean.

- A **z-score of 0** means the raw score equals the population mean. 

- The higher the **absolute value** of the z-score, the more standard deviations from the mean it is.

- Scores between -3 and +3 fall within 99.7% of a normal distribution. More extreme z-scores are rare.

Understanding what z-scores signify allows proper analysis of your statistical data.

Limitations of Using Z-Scores

While useful, z-scores do come with some limitations to be aware of:

- Z-scores depend heavily on a normal distribution. With skewed or irregular data, they may give misleading results.

- Changes to the dataset can alter z-scores, reducing reliability. New outlier data can skew the mean and standard deviation.

- The population parameters must be known. With samples, the sample mean and standard deviation bring uncertainty.

- Difficult to interpret standalone without reference to original data. Same z-score could represent very different raw scores.

- Sensitive to incorrect or inaccurate data which skews mean/standard deviation. Dirty data gives misleading z-scores.

Being aware of these limitations helps ensure you use z-scores properly and interpret them correctly.

Z-Score vs T Score 

While related, z-scores and t-scores are different statistical measures:

- A **z-score** uses the population mean and standard deviation. A **t-score** relies on sample data so uses the sample mean.

- Z-scores assume the exact population parameters are known. T-scores account for sampling uncertainty.

- T-scores are most often used in hypothesis testing like t-tests. Z-scores have broader applications like normalization.

- Z-scores follow a standard normal distribution. T-scores follow a Student's t-distribution which has fatter tails. 

The core difference comes down to z-scores using the true population data, while t-scores are calculated from samples of a population.


Q: How can I use a z-score calculator to easily find z-scores?

A: Many free online z-score calculators like allow you to easily calculate a z-score if you know the mean, standard deviation, and data value. They do the z-score formula calculation for you.

Q: What does a negative z-score mean in terms of standard deviations? 

A: A negative z-score means the data point is less than the mean of the distribution. Specifically, a z-score of -1 is 1 standard deviation left of the mean on the normally distributed curve.

Q: My sample has a z-score of 2. What does this tell me?

A: A z-score of 2 tells you the sample is 2 standard deviations above or right of the mean. Being further from 0 in either direction indicates it is more deviant.

Q: How can I calculate z to find the number of standard deviations a data point is from the mean?

A: To calculate z, you need to first find the mean and standard deviation. Then use the z-score formula of z = (x - μ) / σ, where x is the data point, μ is the population mean, and σ is the standard deviation. 

Q: Why is a z-score useful when analyzing data?

A: A z-score allows you to quantify data in standardized terms of standard deviations away from the mean. This normalized view makes comparing data from different distributions meaningful.

Q: If I don't know the population mean, can I still find a z-score? 

A: Without knowing the true mean, you cannot determine a precise z-score. However, you can use the sample mean and standard deviation to calculate an estimated z-score.

Q: What is the confidence level associated with a z-score of 1?

A: A z-score of 1 corresponds to the 68th percentile. This means that with a z-score of 1, you can have 68% confidence the true mean lies within 1 standard deviation.

Q: How do I interpret a z-score of -2.5?

A: A z-score of -2.5 tells us the data value is 2.5 standard deviations below or left of the distribution mean. This is a sufficiently negative z-score to be an outlier.


Calculating z-scores is an essential statistical skill across disciplines like data science, finance, social sciences, and more. This guide provided a comprehensive overview of z-score definitions, the z-score formula, calculating them by hand and in Excel, interpretations, examples, limitations, and comparisons to t-scores.

Z-scores allow you to quantify how many standard deviations an observation is from the mean. Understanding when to apply z-scores and how to compute and interpret them properly will open up many opportunities for deeper statistical analysis and valuable data-driven insights.

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