is distributed according to the chi-squared distribution with k degrees of freedom. This is usually denoted as
The chi-squared distribution has one parameter: a positive integer k that specifies the number of degrees of freedom (the number of random variables being summed, Zi s).
The chi-squared distribution is used primarily in hypothesis testing, and to a lesser extent for confidence intervals for population variance when the underlying distribution is normal. Unlike more widely known distributions such as the normal distribution and the exponential distribution, the chi-squared distribution is not as often applied in the direct modeling of natural phenomena. It arises in the following hypothesis tests, among others:
It is also a component of the definition of the t-distribution and the F-distribution used in t-tests, analysis of variance, and regression analysis.
The primary reason for which the chi-squared distribution is extensively used in hypothesis testing is its relationship to the normal distribution. Many hypothesis tests use a test statistic, such as the t-statistic in a t-test. For these hypothesis tests, as the sample size, n, increases, the sampling distribution of the test statistic approaches the normal distribution (central limit theorem). Because the test statistic (such as t) is asymptotically normally distributed, provided the sample size is sufficiently large, the distribution used for hypothesis testing may be approximated by a normal distribution. Testing hypotheses using a normal distribution is well understood and relatively easy. The simplest chi-squared distribution is the square of a standard normal distribution. So wherever a normal distribution could be used for a hypothesis test, a chi-squared distribution could be used.
Suppose that is a random variable sampled from the standard normal distribution, where the mean is and the variance is : . Now, consider the random variable . The distribution of the random variable is an example of a chi-squared distribution: . The subscript 1 indicates that this particular chi-squared distribution is constructed from only 1 standard normal distribution. A chi-squared distribution constructed by squaring a single standard normal distribution is said to have 1 degree of freedom. Thus, as the sample size for a hypothesis test increases, the distribution of the test statistic approaches a normal distribution. Just as extreme values of the normal distribution have low probability (and give small p-values), extreme values of the chi-squared distribution have low probability.
An additional reason that the chi-squared distribution is widely used is that it turns up as the large sample distribution of generalized likelihood ratio tests (LRT). LRTs have several desirable properties; in particular, simple LRTs commonly provide the highest power to reject the null hypothesis (Neyman–Pearson lemma) and this leads also to optimality properties of generalised LRTs. However, the normal and chi-squared approximations are only valid asymptotically. For this reason, it is preferable to use the t distribution rather than the normal approximation or the chi-squared approximation for a small sample size. Similarly, in analyses of contingency tables, the chi-squared approximation will be poor for a small sample size, and it is preferable to use Fisher's exact test. Ramsey shows that the exact binomial test is always more powerful than the normal approximation.
Lancaster shows the connections among the binomial, normal, and chi-squared distributions, as follows. De Moivre and Laplace established that a binomial distribution could be approximated by a normal distribution. Specifically they showed the asymptotic normality of the random variable
where is the observed number of successes in trials, where the probability of success is , and .
Squaring both sides of the equation gives
Using , , and , this equation can be rewritten as
The expression on the right is of the form that Karl Pearson would generalize to the form
= Pearson's cumulative test statistic, which asymptotically approaches a distribution;
= the number of observations of type ;
= the expected (theoretical) frequency of type , asserted by the null hypothesis that the fraction of type in the population is ; and
= the number of cells in the table.
In the case of a binomial outcome (flipping a coin), the binomial distribution may be approximated by a normal distribution (for sufficiently large ). Because the square of a standard normal distribution is the chi-squared distribution with one degree of freedom, the probability of a result such as 1 heads in 10 trials can be approximated either by using the normal distribution directly, or the chi-squared distribution for the normalised, squared difference between observed and expected value. However, many problems involve more than the two possible outcomes of a binomial, and instead require 3 or more categories, which leads to the multinomial distribution. Just as de Moivre and Laplace sought for and found the normal approximation to the binomial, Pearson sought for and found a degenerate multivariate normal approximation to the multinomial distribution (the numbers in each category add up to the total sample size, which is considered fixed). Pearson showed that the chi-squared distribution arose from such a multivariate normal approximation to the multinomial distribution, taking careful account of the statistical dependence (negative correlations) between numbers of observations in different categories.
A direct and elementary proof is as follows: Let be a vector of independent normally distributed random variables,
and their average.
where is the identity matrix and the all ones vector.
has one eigenvector with eigenvalue ,
and eigenvectors (all orthogonal to ) with eigenvalue ,
which can be chosen so that is an orthogonal matrix.
Since also ,
which proves the claim.
It follows from the definition of the chi-squared distribution that the sum of independent chi-squared variables is also chi-squared distributed. Specifically, if are independent chi-squared variables with , degrees of freedom, respectively, then is chi-squared distributed with degrees of freedom.
The sample mean of i.i.d. chi-squared variables of degree is distributed according to a gamma distribution with shape and scale parameters:
Asymptotically, given that for a scale parameter going to infinity, a Gamma distribution converges towards a normal distribution with expectation and variance , the sample mean converges towards:
Note that we would have obtained the same result invoking instead the central limit theorem, noting that for each chi-squared variable of degree the expectation is , and its variance (and hence the variance of the sample mean being ).
The moments about zero of a chi-squared distribution with degrees of freedom are given by
The cumulants are readily obtained by a (formal) power series expansion of the logarithm of the characteristic function:
The chi-squared distribution exhibits strong concentration around its mean. The standard Laurent-Massart  bounds are:
Approximate formula for median (from the Wilson–Hilferty transformation) compared with numerical quantile (top); and difference (blue) and relative difference (red) between numerical quantile and approximate formula (bottom). For the chi-squared distribution, only the positive integer numbers of degrees of freedom (circles) are meaningful.
By the central limit theorem, because the chi-squared distribution is the sum of independent random variables with finite mean and variance, it converges to a normal distribution for large . For many practical purposes, for the distribution is sufficiently close to a normal distribution, so the difference is ignorable. Specifically, if , then as tends to infinity, the distribution of tends to a standard normal distribution. However, convergence is slow as the skewness is and the excess kurtosis is .
The sampling distribution of converges to normality much faster than the sampling distribution of , as the logarithmic transform removes much of the asymmetry.
Other functions of the chi-squared distribution converge more rapidly to a normal distribution. Some examples are:
If then is approximately normally distributed with mean and unit variance (1922, by R. A. Fisher, see (18.23), p. 426 of Johnson.
If then is approximately normally distributed with mean and variance  This is known as the Wilson–Hilferty transformation, see (18.24), p. 426 of Johnson.
This normalizing transformation leads directly to the commonly used median approximation by back-transforming from the mean, which is also the median, of the normal distribution.
If and are statistically independent, then . If and are not independent, then is not chi-square distributed.
The chi-squared distribution is obtained as the sum of the squares of k independent, zero-mean, unit-variance Gaussian random variables. Generalizations of this distribution can be obtained by summing the squares of other types of Gaussian random variables. Several such distributions are described below.
If are chi square random variables and , then a closed expression for the distribution of is not known. It may be, however, approximated efficiently using the property of characteristic functions of chi-square random variables.
The generalized chi-squared distribution is obtained from the quadratic form z'Az where z is a zero-mean Gaussian vector having an arbitrary covariance matrix, and A is an arbitrary matrix.
Gamma, exponential, and related distributions
The chi-squared distribution is a special case of the gamma distribution, in that using the rate parameterization of the gamma distribution (or
using the scale parameterization of the gamma distribution)
where k is an integer.
The p-value is the probability of observing a test statistic at least as extreme in a chi-squared distribution. Accordingly, since the cumulative distribution function (CDF) for the appropriate degrees of freedom (df) gives the probability of having obtained a value less extreme than this point, subtracting the CDF value from 1 gives the p-value. A low p-value, below the chosen significance level, indicates statistical significance, i.e., sufficient evidence to reject the null hypothesis. A significance level of 0.05 is often used as the cutoff between significant and non-significant results.
The table below gives a number of p-values matching to for the first 10 degrees of freedom.
These values can be calculated evaluating the quantile function (also known as "inverse CDF" or "ICDF") of the chi-squared distribution; e. g., the χ2 ICDF for p = 0.05 and df = 7 yields 2.1673 ≈ 2.17 as in the table above, noticing that 1 – p is the p-value from the table.
This distribution was first described by the German geodesist and statistician Friedrich Robert Helmert in papers of 1875–6, where he computed the sampling distribution of the sample variance of a normal population. Thus in German this was traditionally known as the Helmert'sche ("Helmertian") or "Helmert distribution".
The distribution was independently rediscovered by the English mathematician Karl Pearson in the context of goodness of fit, for which he developed his Pearson's chi-squared test, published in 1900, with computed table of values published in (Elderton 1902), collected in (Pearson 1914, pp. xxxi–xxxiii, 26–28, Table XII).
The name "chi-square" ultimately derives from Pearson's shorthand for the exponent in a multivariate normal distribution with the Greek letter Chi, writing −½χ2 for what would appear in modern notation as −½xTΣ−1x (Σ being the covariance matrix). The idea of a family of "chi-squared distributions", however, is not due to Pearson but arose as a further development due to Fisher in the 1920s.
^ abcJohnson, N. L.; Kotz, S.; Balakrishnan, N. (1994). "Chi-Square Distributions including Chi and Rayleigh". Continuous Univariate Distributions. Vol. 1 (Second ed.). John Wiley and Sons. pp. 415–493. ISBN978-0-471-58495-7.
^Mood, Alexander; Graybill, Franklin A.; Boes, Duane C. (1974). Introduction to the Theory of Statistics (Third ed.). McGraw-Hill. pp. 241–246. ISBN978-0-07-042864-5.
^Westfall, Peter H. (2013). Understanding Advanced Statistical Methods. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. ISBN978-1-4665-1210-8.
^Ramsey, PH (1988). "Evaluating the Normal Approximation to the Binomial Test". Journal of Educational Statistics. 13 (2): 173–82. doi:10.2307/1164752. JSTOR1164752.
^ abLancaster, H.O. (1969), The Chi-squared Distribution, Wiley
^Bartlett, M. S.; Kendall, D. G. (1946). "The Statistical Analysis of Variance-Heterogeneity and the Logarithmic Transformation". Supplement to the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. 8 (1): 128–138. doi:10.2307/2983618. JSTOR2983618.
^den Dekker A. J., Sijbers J., (2014) "Data distributions in magnetic resonance images: a review", Physica Medica, 
^Chi-Squared Test Table B.2. Dr. Jacqueline S. McLaughlin at The Pennsylvania State University. In turn citing: R. A. Fisher and F. Yates, Statistical Tables for Biological Agricultural and Medical Research, 6th ed., Table IV. Two values have been corrected, 7.82 with 7.81 and 4.60 with 4.61
Pearson, Karl (1914). "On the probability that two independent distributions of frequency are really samples of the same population, with special reference to recent work on the identity of Trypanosome strains". Biometrika. 10: 85–154. doi:10.1093/biomet/10.1.85.