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Introduction

A student takes a ten-question, true-false quiz. Because the student had such a busy schedule, he or she could not study and guesses randomly at each answer. What is the probability of the student passing the test with at least a 70%?

Small companies might be interested in the number of long-distance phone calls their employees make during the peak time of the day. Suppose the average is 20 calls. What is the probability that the employees make more than 20 long-distance phone calls during the peak time?

These two examples illustrate two different types of probability problems involving discrete random variables. Recall that discrete data are data that you can count. A random variable describes the outcomes of a statistical experiment in words. The values of a random variable can vary with each repetition of an experiment.

Random Variable Notation

Upper case letters such as X or Y denote a random variable. Lower case letters like x or y denote the value of a random variable. If X is a random variable, then X is written in words, and x is given as a number.

For example, let X = the number of heads you get when you toss three fair coins. The sample space for the toss of three fair coins is TTTTHHHTHHHTHTTTHTTTHHHH. Then, x = 0, 1, 2, 3. X is in words and x is a number. Notice that for this example, the x values are countable outcomes. Because you can count the possible values that X can take on and the outcomes are random (the x values 0, 1, 2, 3), X is a discrete random variable.