Percent Error Calculator
Use this calculator to easily estimate the percent error of a given observation relative to a known or estimated true value.
What is percent error?
Percent error, also percentage error, is a measure of the accuracy of a measurement relative to a true or estimated value, sometimes referred as "theoretical" value. Unlike the absolute error, which is expressed in whatever units are used to measure it, the percent error is in percentages making it much easier to communicate and understand how big of a concern the error is, without knowing anything else. Using just the relative error, e.g. 1/100 is not as convenient as saying 1% error.
For example, if I tell you that the absolute measurement error is 500 grams, you are not sure if that is a big or small difference, relative to what you are measuring. If you were measuring weights in a market, say, you might be selling potatoes, a 500 gram (0.5 kg or about 1 pound) error would be quite significant as the percent error from a 2kg (~4 pounds) bag of potatoes would be 25% and you will not be allowed to sell scales with such a high possible error. However, 500 grams is a standard error in many home scales made for measuring your body weight, since 0.5kg is just 1% for a 50kg man (110lbs), and only 0.5% error from a 100kg (220lbs) man - good enough for the purpose. So, the same absolute error results in vastly different percent errors, demonstrating its usefulness.
Percent error is not to be mistaken with standard error (of the mean), standard deviation (of the sample) or margin of error, as these are more advanced statistical concepts.
Percent error formula
There are several ways to write the percent error formula. The most straightforward is, assuming V stands for Value:
Percentage error = (Vobserverd - Vtrue) / Vtrue x 100
When calculated as we show above, the percentage error will be positive when the observed value is larger than the true, and it will be negative otherwise, so the sign of the error will be useful in understanding the direction of the error. Note that for chemistry and most sciences it is customary to preserve the sign of the error as its direction matters.
In some places the formula is written with (Vtrue - Vobserverd), which is incorrect, or at least inconvenient, as this reverses the sign. If you do not care about the directionality of the error, then just take the absolute: |Vobserverd - Vtrue| in the numerator.
If you have calculated the absolute error using the formula below:
Eabsolute = Vobserverd - Vtrue
then you can write the percent error formula like so:
Percentage error = Eabsolute / Vtrue x 100
If you know the relative error:
Erelative = (Vobserverd - Vtrue) / Vtrue
Then the percent error is simply:
Epercent = Erelative x 100
As you can see there are many wasy to calculate it, but the math is simple enough to be done by hand in many cases.
How to calculate percent error?
Below are several examples using different starting information and measurement units.
Example #1: Percentage error from observed and true value
Let's take an example from everyday life. Say you are purchasing wooden laths to make a treehouse. You order laths with a length of 10 feet (304.8 cm), but upon receival you get laths that are 10 ft 1 inch (307.34 cm) long. How much is that as a percent error?
You need to apply the formula like so:
(10 ft 1 in - 10 ft ) / 10 ft x 100 = (121 in - 120 in) / 120 in x 100 = 1 / 120 x 100 = 0.0083 x 100 = 0.83% error
Example #2: Absolute error to percent error
Let's get back to our scales example from paragraph one. If we know the allowed absolute error of our home scale is 0.5kg or 1.1 pound, how do we calculate the percent error if we expect our true weight to be 100kg (220 lbs)?
In kg, we need to divide 0.5 by 100 to get the relative error and then multiply by 100 to convert it to percent. In pounds we need to divide 1.1 by 220 to get the relative error, and then multiply by 100 to convert to percent.
In kg: (0.5 / 100) * 100 = 0.005 * 100 = 0.5% error
In lbs: (1.1 / 220) * 100 = 0.005 * 100 = 0.5% error
Example #3: Absolute to percentage error
Let us go back to the treehouse example, but with a spin. Now, when purchasing, the producer tells you that due to the production process, a difference of up to 0.5 inches (12.7 mm) versus your specification is expected. How much is that as a percent error?
To calculate that, you need to know the required lath length, for example 10 feet (304.8 cm). Then, you need to apply the formula based on known absolute error like so:
0.5in / 10 ft x 100 = 0.5 in / 120 in x 100 = 0.00416 x 100 = 0.416% error
Cite this calculator & page
If you'd like to cite this online calculator resource and information as provided on the page, you can use the following citation:
Georgiev G.Z., "Percent Error Calculator", [online] Available at: https://www.gigacalculator.com/calculators/percent-error-calculator.php URL [Accessed Date: 13 Dec, 2019].