Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test

What is the Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test?

The Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test, often abbreviated as the K-S test, is a nonparametric test used to determine the goodness of fit of two distributions. In other words, it is a statistical test used to compare a sample with a reference probability distribution (one-sample K-S test), or to compare two samples (two-sample K-S test). The K-S test quantifies the distance between the empirical distribution functions of the two samples and is used to test the hypothesis that the samples are drawn from the same distribution.

Understanding the Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test

The K-S test is based on the empirical distribution function (ECDF). Given a set of observations, the ECDF is a step function that increases by 1/n at each data point, where n is the number of observations. The K-S test statistic is the maximum distance between the ECDF of the sample and the ECDF of the reference distribution or between the ECDFs of two samples.

The K-S test has the advantage of making no assumption about the distribution of data. This is particularly useful when the data does not conform to a normal distribution, which is a common assumption for many other statistical tests. It is also not affected by the actual values of the data, but rather by the relative standing of the data points.

One-Sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test

In the one-sample K-S test, the null hypothesis states that the sample is drawn from a particular distribution. The alternative hypothesis, conversely, is that the sample is not drawn from the distribution. The test statistic is calculated as follows:

Dn = supx|Fn(x) - F(x)|


  • Dn is the K-S test statistic,
  • supx is the supremum of the set of distances,
  • Fn(x) is the empirical distribution function of the sample,
  • F(x) is the cumulative distribution function of the reference distribution.

The p-value is then calculated from the test statistic, which tells us the probability of observing a test statistic as extreme as, or more extreme than, the observed value under the null hypothesis.

Two-Sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test

The two-sample K-S test is used to test the hypothesis that two samples are drawn from the same distribution. The null hypothesis in this case is that the two samples come from the same distribution, and the alternative hypothesis is that they do not. The test statistic is calculated as follows:

Dnm = supx|F1,n(x) - F2,m(x)|


  • Dnm is the K-S test statistic for the two-sample test,
  • F1,n(x) is the empirical distribution function of the first sample,
  • F2,m(x) is the empirical distribution function of the second sample,
  • n and m are the sample sizes of the first and second sample, respectively.

As with the one-sample test, a p-value is calculated to determine the likelihood of the observed data under the null hypothesis.

Limitations of the Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test

While the K-S test is a powerful tool for comparing distributions, it does have limitations. The test is sensitive to differences in both location and shape of the empirical cumulative distribution functions of the two samples. This can sometimes lead to situations where the K-S test identifies a difference between two distributions that is not of practical importance.

Additionally, the K-S test can be less powerful when the sample sizes are small, as the estimation of the ECDFs may not be accurate. The test also assumes that the distributions being compared are continuous and fully specified without any parameters estimated from the data.

Applications of the Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test

The K-S test is widely used in various fields such as:

  • Finance: for risk modeling and to compare the empirical distribution of asset returns to theoretical models.
  • Environmental Science: to compare observed data to theoretical models of environmental phenomena.
  • Quality Control: to determine if the process distribution has changed.
  • Genetics: to compare frequency distributions of genetic traits or alleles.

In conclusion, the Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test is a versatile nonparametric method for comparing probability distributions. It is particularly useful in situations where the form of the distribution is not known a priori and can be applied to data from any continuous distribution.

Please sign up or login with your details

Forgot password? Click here to reset