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  • Determine the appropriate number of significant figures in both addition and subtraction, as well as multiplication and division calculations.
  • Calculate the percent uncertainty of a measurement.
An old rusted double-pan balance is shown with a weighing stone on one pan.
A double-pan mechanical balance is used to compare different masses. Usually an object with unknown mass is placed in one pan and objects of known mass are placed in the other pan. When the bar that connects the two pans is horizontal, then the masses in both pans are equal. The “known masses” are typically metal cylinders of standard mass such as 1 gram, 10 grams, and 100 grams. (credit: Serge Melki)
A digital analytical balance.
Many mechanical balances, such as double-pan balances, have been replaced by digital scales, which can typically measure the mass of an object more precisely. Whereas a mechanical balance may only read the mass of an object to the nearest tenth of a gram, many digital scales can measure the mass of an object up to the nearest thousandth of a gram. (credit: Karel Jakubec)

Accuracy and precision of a measurement

Science is based on observation and experiment—that is, on measurements. Accuracy is how close a measurement is to the correct value for that measurement. For example, let us say that you are measuring the length of standard computer paper. The packaging in which you purchased the paper states that it is 11.0 inches long. You measure the length of the paper three times and obtain the following measurements: 11.1 in., 11.2 in., and 10.9 in. These measurements are quite accurate because they are very close to the correct value of 11.0 inches. In contrast, if you had obtained a measurement of 12 inches, your measurement would not be very accurate.

The precision    of a measurement system is refers to how close the agreement is between repeated measurements (which are repeated under the same conditions). Consider the example of the paper measurements. The precision of the measurements refers to the spread of the measured values. One way to analyze the precision of the measurements would be to determine the range, or difference, between the lowest and the highest measured values. In that case, the lowest value was 10.9 in. and the highest value was 11.2 in. Thus, the measured values deviated from each other by at most 0.3 in. These measurements were relatively precise because they did not vary too much in value. However, if the measured values had been 10.9, 11.1, and 11.9, then the measurements would not be very precise because there would be significant variation from one measurement to another.

The measurements in the paper example are both accurate and precise, but in some cases, measurements are accurate but not precise, or they are precise but not accurate. Let us consider an example of a GPS system that is attempting to locate the position of a restaurant in a city. Think of the restaurant location as existing at the center of a bull’s-eye target, and think of each GPS attempt to locate the restaurant as a black dot. In [link] , you can see that the GPS measurements are spread out far apart from each other, but they are all relatively close to the actual location of the restaurant at the center of the target. This indicates a low precision, high accuracy measuring system. However, in [link] , the GPS measurements are concentrated quite closely to one another, but they are far away from the target location. This indicates a high precision, low accuracy measuring system.

Questions & Answers

what is thermo electric thermometer
Undie Reply
Who can help me with dynamics?
ivan Reply
radiation amuses mee....
pau Reply
can someone enumerate the First and second law of thermodynamics
oladele Reply
Good
Abdul Reply
radiation of phones kept amazing me
Okugbesan Reply
f=m(v-u)/t
Adeleke Reply
I understand light is a range of wavelenghts from em spectrum, but Where do photons come from in particular, how it is emitted from the sun?
Ian Reply
F=ma
pierre Reply
please what is the formula for calculating Newton second law of motion?
Ogodo Reply
what is emotion
Lilian Reply
properties of transverse waves
Abiodun Reply
is visible light electromagnetic wave?
akash Reply
Visible light is a range of wavelengths within the electro magnetic spectrum.
Robert
It is electro magnetic radiation from the sun.
Robert
please what is the formula for coefficient of kinetic friction
Seyi Reply
What is work
Sunbomustaphar Reply
Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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