BASIC PROBABILITY CONCEPTS

Probability is the area of mathematics devoted to predicting the likelihood of uncertain occurrences.

For example, when you roll a die, it is uncertain whether you'll see a [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\,$, $\,2\,$, $\,3\,$, $\,4\,$, $\,5\,$, or $\,6\,$.
However, it is possible to talk about how likely it is for each number to occur.

DEFINITIONS probability, experiment, outcome, sample space, event
A probability is a number between [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,0\,$ and $\,1\,$
that represents the likelihood of occurrence of something.

An experiment is the act of making an observation or taking a measurement.

An outcome is one of the possible things that can occur as a result of an experiment.

The set of all possible outcomes for an experiment is called its sample space,
and is frequently denoted by $\,S\,$.

Any subset of the sample space is called an event, and is frequently denoted by $\,E\,$.

The probability of an event $\,E\,$ is denoted by $\,P(E)\,$.

Given any set $\,A\,$, the notation $\,n(A)\,$ denotes the number of elements in $\,A\,$.

A die is a cube with the numbers [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\,$ through $\,6\,$ represented on its six faces.
When it is thrown (‘rolled’), one of these six faces appears on top.
For a fair die, each of the numbers $\,1\,$ through $\,6\,$ is equally likely to occur.
a fair die

There are lots of experiments involving a single fair die.
Here are some of them, with their corresponding outcomes and sample spaces:

EXPERIMENTOUTCOMESSAMPLE SPACE
(1)   Roll once;
record the number that appears on the top face.
six possible outcomes:
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\,$, $\,2\,$, $\,3\,$, $\,4\,$, $\,5\,$, $\,6\,$
$S = \{1,2,3,4,5,6\}$
(2)   Roll once;
record the number that appears on the bottom (hidden) face.
six possible outcomes:
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\,$, $\,2\,$, $\,3\,$, $\,4\,$, $\,5\,$, $\,6\,$
$S = \{1,2,3,4,5,6\}$
(3)   Roll twice;
record the numbers on each of these rolls, in order.

In this experiment and those below,
use the notation $\,1\star5\,$
to denote a roll of $\,1\,$, followed by a roll of $\,5\,$.
$36\,$ possible outcomes:
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\star1\,$, $\,1\star2\,$, $\,1\star3\,$, $\,1\star4\,$, $\,1\star5\,$, $\,1\star6\,$
$\,2\star1\,$, $\,2\star2\,$, $\,2\star3\,$, $\,2\star4\,$, $\,2\star5\,$, $\,2\star6\,$
$\,3\star1\,$, $\,3\star2\,$, $\,3\star3\,$, $\,3\star4\,$, $\,3\star5\,$, $\,3\star6\,$
$\,4\star1\,$, $\,4\star2\,$, $\,4\star3\,$, $\,4\star4\,$, $\,4\star5\,$, $\,4\star6\,$
$\,5\star1\,$, $\,5\star2\,$, $\,5\star3\,$, $\,5\star4\,$, $\,5\star5\,$, $\,5\star6\,$
$\,6\star1\,$, $\,6\star2\,$, $\,6\star3\,$, $\,6\star4\,$, $\,6\star5\,$, $\,6\star6\,$
$S = \{$
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\star1\,$, $\,1\star2\,$, $\,1\star3\,$, $\,1\star4\,$, $\,1\star5\,$, $\,1\star6\,$,
$\,2\star1\,$, $\,2\star2\,$, $\,2\star3\,$, $\,2\star4\,$, $\,2\star5\,$, $\,2\star6\,$,
$\,3\star1\,$, $\,3\star2\,$, $\,3\star3\,$, $\,3\star4\,$, $\,3\star5\,$, $\,3\star6\,$,
$\,4\star1\,$, $\,4\star2\,$, $\,4\star3\,$, $\,4\star4\,$, $\,4\star5\,$, $\,4\star6\,$,
$\,5\star1\,$, $\,5\star2\,$, $\,5\star3\,$, $\,5\star4\,$, $\,5\star5\,$, $\,5\star6\,$,
$\,6\star1\,$, $\,6\star2\,$, $\,6\star3\,$, $\,6\star4\,$, $\,6\star5\,$, $\,6\star6\,$
$\}$
(4)   Roll twice;
record the sum of the numbers that appear.
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,11\,$ possible outcomes:
The smallest sum you can get is $\,2\,$;
this results only from rolling a $\,1\,$ followed by a $\,1\,$.
The largest sum you can get is $\,12\,$;
this results only from rolling a $\,6\,$ followed by a $\,6\,$.
Convince yourself that every whole number
between $\,2\,$ and $\,12\,$ is also a possible outcome;
for example, you could get $\,5\,$ in all these ways:
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\star4\,$,   $\,2\star3\,$,   $\,3\star2\,$,   $\,4\star1\,$
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $S = \{2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12\}$
(5)   Roll twice;
record the greatest number that appears on the two rolls.
six possible outcomes:
[beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,1\,$, $\,2\,$, $\,3\,$, $\,4\,$, $\,5\,$, $\,6\,$

For $\,1\star1\,$, the greatest number is $\,1\,$.
This is the only way to get an outcome of $\,1\,$.

For $\,1\star2\,$, the greatest number is $\,2\,$.
There are three ways to get the outcome $\,2\,$:
$\,1\star 2\,$,   $\,2\star 1\,$,   $\,2\star2\,$

For $\,1\star3\,$, the greatest number is $\,3\,$.
There are five ways to get the outcome $\,3\,$:
$\,1\star 3\,$,   $\,2\star 3\,$,   $\,3\star1\,$,   $\,3\star 2\,$,   $\,3\star 3\,$
$S = \{1,2,3,4,5,6\}$

NOT ALL SAMPLE SPACES ARE CREATED EQUAL

Some sample spaces are much easier to work with than others.

In experiments (1), (2) and (3) above, each member of the sample space is equally likely:

In experiments (4) and (5), however, the outcomes are not all equally likely:

When a sample space has equally likely outcomes, then computing probabilities is as easy as counting:

EQUALLY LIKELY OUTCOMES
Let [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,S\,$ be a sample space with a finite number of outcomes.
Suppose each outcome in $\,S\,$ is equally likely to occur.
Then, the probability of an event $\,E\,$ is found by taking the number of outcomes in $\,E\,$
and dividing by the number of outcomes in $\,S\,$.
That is: [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $$ P(E) = \frac{n(E)}{n(S)} $$

This is best illustrated by an example.
Let's consider the first (or second) experiment above—a single roll of a fair die.
The example below also clarifies the idea of an ‘event’,
and illustrates notation that is frequently used in connection with probability problems.

EXAMPLE
Consider a single roll of a fair die.
The sample space is [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\,S = \{1,2,3,4,5,6\}\,$.
Note that $\,n(S) = 6\,$, since there are $\,6\,$ members in $\,S\,$.

Since this is a fair die, each member of $\,S\,$ is equally likely.
Let $\,x\,$ denote the number that is rolled.

An ‘event’ is a subset of the sample space, so there are many possible events.
Any subset $\,E\,$ of $\,S\,$ will have six or fewer members, so $\,0 \le n(E) \le 6\,$.
The table below illustrates several events, their interpretations, and some conventional language and notation:

eventinterpretation of eventprobability of eventsome conventional language used
to report the probability
$E = \{3\}$ getting a $\,3\,$ on a single roll of a fair die [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\displaystyle\frac{n(E)}{n(S)} = \frac16$ $P(x = 3) = \frac16$
read as:
“The probability that $\,x\,$ is $\,3\,$ is $\,\frac16\,$.”
$E = \{4\}$ getting a $\,4\,$ on a single roll of a fair die [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\displaystyle\frac{n(E)}{n(S)} = \frac16$ $P(x = 4) = \frac16$
$E = \{3,4\}$ getting a $\,3\,$ or a $\,4\,$ on a single roll of a fair die $\displaystyle\frac{n(E)}{n(S)} = \frac26 = \frac13$ $P(x = 3 \text{ or } x=4) = \frac26 = \frac 13$
$E = \{2,4,6\}$ getting an even number on a single roll of a fair die [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\displaystyle\frac{n(E)}{n(S)} = \frac36 = \frac12$ $P(x \text{ is even}) = \frac36 = \frac 12$
$E = \{2,3,4,5,6\}$ getting a number greater than $\,1\,$on a single roll of a fair die [beautiful math coming... please be patient] $\displaystyle\frac{n(E)}{n(S)} = \frac56$ $P(x \gt 1) = \frac56$
Master the ideas from this section
by practicing the exercise at the bottom of this page.

When you're done practicing, move on to:
More Probability Concepts


On this exercise, you will not key in your answer.
However, you can check to see if your answer is correct.
(MAX is 24; there are 24 different problem types.)