Calculate Percent Error

Percent error is the percent difference between a measured and expected value. (Sherman Geronimo-Tan)

Percent error is the percent difference between a measured and expected value. (image: Sherman Geronimo-Tan)

Percent Error Definition

Percent error, sometimes referred to as percentage error, is an expression of the difference between a measured value and the known or accepted value. It is often used in science to report the difference between experimental values and expected values.

The formula for calculating percent error is:Percent Error Formula

Note: occasionally, it is useful to know if the error is positive or negative. If you need to know the positive or negative error, this is done by dropping the absolute value brackets in the formula. In most cases, absolute error is fine. For example, in experiments involving yields in chemical reactions, it is unlikely you will obtain more product than theoretically possible.

Steps to Calculate the Percent Error

  1. Subtract the accepted value from the experimental value.
  2. Take the absolute value of step 1
  3. Divide that answer by the accepted value.
  4. Multiply that answer by 100 and add the % symbol to express the answer as a percentage.

Now let’s try an example problem.

You are given a cube of pure copper. You measure the sides of the cube to find the volume and weigh it to find its mass. When you calculate the density using your measurements, you get 8.78 grams/cm3. Copper’s accepted density is 8.96 g/cm3. What is your percent error?

Solution:
experimental value = 8.78 g/cm3
accepted value = 8.96 g/cm3

Step 1: Subtract the accepted value from the experimental value.

8.96 g/cm3 – 8.78 g/cm3 = -0.18 g/cm3

Step 2: Take the absolute value of step 1

|-0.18 g/cm3| = 0.18 g/cm3

Step 3: Divide that answer by the accepted value.Percent Error Math 3

Step 4: Multiply that answer by 100 and add the % symbol to express the answer as a percentage.

0.02 x 100 = 2
2%

The percent error of your density calculation was 2%.

Calculate Percent Error
Last modified: February 14th, 2017 by Todd Helmenstine

5 thoughts on “Calculate Percent Error

  1. Mark

    Steps 1 and 3 use the wrong values. Since the experimental value is smaller than the accepted value it should be a negative error.

    1. Mary Andrews

      Percent error is always represented as a positive value. The difference between the actual and experimental value is always the absolute value of the difference. |Experimental-Actual|/Actualx100 so it doesn’t matter how you subtract. The result of the difference is positive and therefore the percent error is positive.

  2. Pingback: Comprehensive Guide to Error in Science Experiments

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