What Type of Test Is Categorical Data?


Angela Bailey

Categorical data is a type of data that represents characteristics, qualities, or attributes. It is often referred to as qualitative data and is distinct from numerical or quantitative data. Understanding the nature of categorical data is essential for appropriate statistical analysis and interpretation.

What is Categorical Data?

Categorical data can be divided into several distinct categories or groups. Examples include gender (male/female), marital status (single/married/divorced), color (red/blue/green), and education level (high school/college/graduate).

Types of Categorical Data:

  • Nominal: Nominal categorical data does not have any inherent order or ranking. For example, eye color or ethnicity fall under this category.
  • Ordinal: Ordinal categorical data has a natural order or ranking associated with it. Examples include educational attainment level (e.g., high school, college, graduate) or survey responses on a Likert scale.

Statistical Tests for Categorical Data

When analyzing categorical data, different statistical tests are used depending on the research question and the type of categorical variable being examined.

Chi-Square Test

The chi-square test is commonly used to determine whether there is a significant association between two categorical variables. It assesses whether there is an observed difference between the expected and observed frequencies in different categories.


To examine if there is an association between smoking habits (categories: smoker, non-smoker) and lung cancer diagnosis (categories: diagnosed with lung cancer, not diagnosed with lung cancer), a chi-square test can be performed.

Fisher’s Exact Test

Fisher’s exact test is a statistical test used when the sample size is small or when the assumptions for the chi-square test are not met. It is often used to analyze contingency tables with categorical variables.


In a study investigating the relationship between diet (categories: vegetarian, non-vegetarian) and heart disease (categories: diagnosed with heart disease, not diagnosed with heart disease), Fisher’s exact test can be employed.


Categorical data plays a crucial role in statistical analysis. Understanding the different types of categorical variables and appropriate statistical tests helps ensure accurate interpretation of data. The chi-square test and Fisher’s exact test are two commonly used tests for analyzing categorical data.

Remember to consider the nature of your data and choose the appropriate statistical test accordingly. With careful analysis, you can draw meaningful insights from categorical data.

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