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The Difference Between Descriptive and Inferential Statistics

Inferential statistics make predictions about a population using a sample, while descriptive statistics summarize & describe data. Understanding the difference is crucial for interpreting data.
8 minutes
The Difference Between Descriptive and Inferential Statistics
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Statistics may be a very fancy-sounding word, but what it refers to is actually very common and approachable. The branch of applied mathematics known as statistics is made up of the collection, description, analysis, and inference of conclusions from quantitative data. 

Statistics are based on many mathematical theories, and when done correctly are a powerful tool for figuring out how to come to reliable conclusions about large groups and general events by studying the behavior and any other observable aspects of small sample groups. 

All statistical techniques can be split broadly into descriptive and inferential statistics. Let’s get into what that means, and learn a little more about statistics. 

Working with a math tutor will allow you to improve your math grades, get a real understanding of how statistics work and how to apply the knowledge you learn, sharpen your problem-solving skills, and so much more!

Descriptive and inferential statistics and how they differ

All statistics can be categorized into descriptive and inferential statistics. As the names suggest, one group of statistics describes data and the other infers from data. If you ever get lost in statistics just remember that. Most of the time, it can help to steer you to understanding what to do from there as each type of statistic will have different rules of operation and concepts. 

Descriptive statistics

Let’s talk first about descriptive statistics. Descriptive statistics refers to analysis of data that will help to show, describe, or summarize data in meaningful ways, for example by showing patterns in that data. It’s important to note that they don’t allow you to come to any conclusions outside of the analyzed data or to reach conclusions about any hypotheses you’ve made. Descriptive statistics are just a way to describe data. 

So what’s the importance of descriptive data? If you gathered raw data and then tried to present it just as it was, then it would be very hard to visualize what that data meant or even what it was showing. Descriptive statistics is a way to present data in a way that’s meaningful and easy to understand. 

For example, you want to see what the overall performance of 100 students was in their math exam. The raw data here would be their results, and if you didn’t present them meaningfully, then you’d just be looking at 100 different exam results on a paper. With descriptive statistics, you would be able to see the distribution or spread of these marks. You could also describe them with graphs and statistics. 

There are two general types of descriptive statistics, measures of tendency and measures of spread. 

  • Measures of tendency: ways of describing the central position of the frequency distribution for a collection of data. In our example, the frequency distribution would be the distribution and spread of marks that the students scored, from lowest to highest. The central position of that data could be described using statistics like the mean, median, and mode.

  • Measures of spread: any way of summarizing a set of data by showing how spread out the data is. In our example, let’s say the mean score that the students got was 75, but that wouldn’t mean everyone scored 75. Some would have scored lower and some higher. Measures of spread will help you to understand exactly how much lower and higher those scores are and get an idea of their spread. Describing that spread could be done with statistics like range, absolute deviation, standard deviation, and quartiles. 

Inferential statistics

Descriptive statistics can give information about an immediate group of data. You can calculate the mode and absolute deviation of the exam marks from those 100 students and learn a lot of valuable information about that set of students. A group of data like that, which includes all of the data that you’re interested in, is called a population. A population can be any size, but it has to include all of the data you’re interested in. Descriptive statistics are applied to populations.  The properties of populations (like the mode or absolute deviation) are called parameters, and they represent that whole population. 

In some cases though, you might be interested in a population but only have access to a limited amount of data. Let’s say you want to know about the exam marks of all the students in Texas, but it wouldn’t be easy (or even possible) to measure that. Instead, you’d have to measure a smaller sample and then use that to represent the larger population that you’re interested in. 

Unlike with populations, the properties of samples are not called parameters but statistics instead. Inferential statistics use samples to make general conclusions about the larger populations where the samples came from. You can see, then, why it’s important that the sample accurately represents the population it will speak for. 

To achieve this, you need to use a process known as sampling. This process naturally comes with sampling error, and a sample is never expected to be (and can never be) a perfect representation of the population, but it’s as close as possible. 

Inferential statistics involve the estimation of parameters and the testing of statistical hypotheses. 

Why a Statistics Tutor can Help

Like all mathematics, statistics can be confusing and intimidating to try and figure out all by yourself—even if you’re an adult. But that’s not a problem, because with the help of a tutor, you can easily get a handle on what’s what, even if you’ve never heard of descriptive and inferential statistics in your life. 

A math tutor has the knowledge as well as the experience needed to help you understand this subject as well as how to use it correctly. They have the time and opportunity to explain every step to you in detail and give you practice problems that will help guide you along the right path and hone your skills and understanding. 

Whether you’re looking for help with descriptive and inferential statistics or with your whole math curriculum, a tutor is an excellent choice. 

Here at Learner, we have a fantastic selection of tutors who know all about statistics, how to use them to spot trends and patterns, and how to turn data into meaningful real-life applications. Statistics is an important branch of math, but it can get messy fast if you’re confused, so it’s important to get help as early as possible. 

What to look for in a statistics tutor

There’s no shame in being lost when it comes to understanding statistics, whether it’s a small part of the topic you don’t get or all of it. Maybe you even need help with the rest of your curriculum. Whatever the case, know that reaching out to a tutor for help is an excellent option. 

Tutors have the time and availability to give you tailored, focused, one-on-one help. They can guide you through the concepts of descriptive and inferential statistics and explain the different ways in which you can use them. They may be a confusing topic, but with a tutor to lead the way, you’ll be a master of statistics before you know it!

When considering a candidate to be your tutor, consider these factors:


All the best tutors have the patience to make sure you understand a concept thoroughly, no matter how many tries or different approaches they need to accomplish that. If you hear from past students or find out yourself that your candidate is impatient, then they’re simply not right for the job. 

Teaching style

Every tutor has a different teaching style, so make sure that the one you choose has a style that suits you. It’s also a good idea to find out what learning style suits you if you don’t know what it is yet. Although some tutors can adapt their teaching style to suit you, make sure to find out if that’s possible if you’re set on a candidate.  


Experienced tutors will guide you through the process of learning statistics. An inexperienced tutor may just end up confusing you more and wasting both time and money. 

Practice problems

The best way to learn and remember what you’ve learned is to practice it. The more practice you do, the more you’ll understand statistics. Your tutor must be able to give you all the practice problems that you need. 


The right tutor will be organized—not just with your coursework and keeping track of what you have and haven’t accomplished, but also with statistical concepts. Descriptive and inferential statistics involve a lot of different theories, explanations, and ideas, so your tutor must be organized enough to keep them all untangled. 

Benefits of a Statistics Tutor from Learner

When you work with any of our excellent math tutors here at Learner, you can enjoy learning with a tutor who is:

  • Experienced with the fundamentals of math
  • Excellent at helping you to understand math concepts and can even make math fun
  • Patient and always has the time to explain statistics to you in a way that you can understand
  • Flexible to help cater to your learning needs
  • Organized and can keep on top of all the different statistical concepts 
  • Supportive and can help you no matter how much you struggle

From actuarial mathematics to trigonometry, Learner has your back. We can help you with any math concept you’re struggling with. With the highest quality tutoring from our qualified tutors, your success is our success. Try out our risk-free trial so that you can see just how much we can help you with descriptive and inferential statistics today!

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About the author:

Mike developed his passion for education as a math instructor at Penn State University. He expanded his educational experience launching and running an Executive Education business - training over 100,000 students per year. As the CEO of Learner, Mike focuses on accelerating learning and unleashing the potential of students. 

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