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GCSE Maths Probability

Describing Probability

Probability Symbol

Probability Symbol

Here we will learn about probability symbols, including union, intersection and complement notation.

There are also probability symbols worksheets based on Edexcel, AQA and OCR exam questions, along with further guidance on where to go next if you’re still stuck.

What are probability symbols?

Probability symbols are the symbols we might see in a GCSE question involving set notation and Venn diagrams.

To use probability symbols along with others to write mathematical statements, we need to understand what each symbol represents.

For example, below is a Venn diagram (a joint probability distribution) showing the following information,

  • \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10\}
  • A = \{ even numbers \}
  • B = \{ multiples of 3\}

Probability symbol image 1

The probability of an even number that is also a multiple of 3 in the Venn diagram above is \frac{1}{10}. This is because there is only 1 value (or element) in the intersection of the Venn diagram, out of a total of 10 values (or elements).

Step-by-step guide: Venn diagrams

In probability theory, probability symbols allow the reader to shorten a mathematical statement so that it is more clear and concise.

If we used probability symbols to represent the previous probability in the Venn diagram above (the probability of selecting an even number and a multiple of 3 ), we would write P(A\cap{B})=\frac{1}{10}. This also reads as the probability of A intersection B is equal to one tenth.

The table below outlines key set notation that is used within probability theory; the next table outlines key probability symbols alongside their description.

Probability symbol image 2

We can use these symbols for probability purposes.

Here is what each symbol means in the context of probability.

Probability symbol image 3

Note: P(x) is the probability of the random variable x occurring. The P is a capital letter.

What are probability symbols?

What are probability symbols?

How to answer questions with probability symbols

In order to answer questions with probability symbols:

  1. Identify the probability description from the symbols being used.
  2. Identify the frequency of the event required.
  3. Divide the frequency of the event by the total number of outcomes.

Explain how to answer questions with probability symbols

Explain how to answer questions with probability symbols

Probability symbol worksheet

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Probability symbol worksheet

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Probability symbol examples

Example 1: calculating the probability of event A happening

Let \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10\} and A = \{ prime number \}. A number is selected at random from \xi. Calculate P(A).

  1. Identify the probability description of the symbols being used.

As A = \{ prime number \}, the set of A contains the items 2, 3, 5, and 7. This is written as A= \{2,3,5,7\}.

2Identify the frequency of the event required.

There are four numbers in the set of A and so A has a frequency of 4.

3Divide the frequency of the event by the total number of outcomes.

There are 10 numbers in the universal set, \xi. Therefore,

P(A)=\frac{4}{10}=\frac{2}{5}.

Example 2: calculating the probability of event A not happening

Let \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15\} and A = \{ multiple of 4\}. A number is selected at random. Calculate P(A’)

As A = \{ multiple of 4\}, \ A’ will therefore be the numbers that are not multiples of 4 and so A’ = \{1,2,3,5,6,7,9,10,11,13,14,15\}.

A’ has a frequency of 12.

There are 15 numbers in \xi. Therefore,


P(A')=\frac{12}{15}=\frac{4}{5}.

Example 3: calculating the probability of event A and B happening

Let \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10\}, \ A = \{ prime number \} and B = \{ even number\}. Determine the value of P(A\cap{B}). Express your solution as a decimal.

As A = \{ prime number \}, we therefore know that A = \{2,3,5,7\}.


As B = \{ even number \}, we therefore know that B = \{2,4,6,8,10\}.


This means that A\cap{B} = \{ prime and even \} = \{2\}.

A\cap{B} has a frequency of 1.

There are 10 numbers in \xi therefore,


P(A\cap{B})=\frac{1}{10}=0.1.

Example 4: calculating the probability of event A or B happening

The Venn diagram shows the frequency of 40 students who study two subjects,

F=\{ Students studying French \}, and S=\{ Students studying Spanish \}.

Probability symbol example 4 image 1

Calculate P(F\cup{S}).

Given that F = \{ Students studying French \} and S = \{ Students studying Spanish \} where \cup represents the union of two sets, we have F\cup{S} = \{ Students studying French or Spanish \}.


Probability symbol example 4 image 2

F\cup{S} has a frequency of 10+5+12=27.

There are 40 students in \xi. Therefore,


P(F\cup{S})=\frac{27}{40}.

Example 5: calculating the probability of event A happening and B not happening

The Venn diagram shows information about two sets A and B.

Probability symbol example 5 image 1

Calculate P(A\cap{B}’).

A\cap{B’} = \{ elements in set A but not set B\}.


Probability symbol example 5 image 2

A\cap{B’} has a frequency of 4.

There are 20 elements in \xi. Therefore,


P(A\cap{B’})=\frac{4}{20}=\frac{1}{5}.

Example 6: calculating the probability of event B not happening or C happening

65 students were asked whether they liked B=\{ Banana} and C=\{ Custard \}. The results are represented in the Venn diagram below.

Probability symbol example 6 image 1

Calculate the probability P(B’\cup{C}).

The symbols B’\cup{C} is the set of elements not in set B, or the elements in set C. Contextually, we want to calculate the probability that a student likes banana and custard, custard only, or neither.


Probability symbol example 6 image 2

B’\cup{C} has a frequency of 14+19+20=53.

There are 65 elements in \xi. Therefore,


P(B’\cup{C})=\frac{53}{65}.

Common misconceptions

  • Confusing the intersection symbol with the union symbol

The two symbols and have two different meanings. The intersection of two sets means that the item is in both of these sets, whereas the union of two sets, the item can be in one or the other, or both.

It is common for students to forget that elements in the union (U) of two sets can be excluded from the description of one of the sets in the union.

Practice probability symbol questions

1. Let \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13\} and A = \{ multiples of 3\}. A number is selected at random. Find P(A).

\frac{4}{12}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{4}{13}
GCSE Quiz True

\frac{1}{13}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{3}{13}
GCSE Quiz False

There are 4 elements in set A and 13 in \xi and so P(A)=\frac{4}{13}.

2. Let \xi = \{1 \leq x \leq 15 \} and A = \{x is a multiple of 5\}. A number is selected at random. Find P(A’).

\frac{1}{15}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{12}{15}
GCSE Quiz True

\frac{3}{15}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{6}{15}
GCSE Quiz False
A’ = \{1,2,3,4,6,7,8,9,11,12,13,14\}.

3. Let \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15\} with A = \{ multiples of 3\} and B = \{ odd numbers \}. A number is selected at random. Calculate the value of P(A\cap{B}).

\frac{6}{15}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{1}{15}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{3}{15}
GCSE Quiz True

\frac{10}{15}
GCSE Quiz False
A\cap{B}=\{3,9,15\}

4. Let \xi = \{1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10\} where A = \{ multiples of 4\} and B = \{ prime numbers \}. A number is selected at random. Find P(A\cup{B}).

\frac{6}{10}
GCSE Quiz True

0
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{7}{10}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{8}{10}
GCSE Quiz False
A\cup{B}=\{2,3,4,5,7,8\}

5. The Venn diagram shows the frequency of students who are studying F=\{ French \} and S=\{ Spanish \}.

 

Probability symbol practice question 5

 

Find P(F \cap S’).

\frac{15}{40}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{5}{40}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{13}{40}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{10}{40}
GCSE Quiz True

The frequency of F\cap{S’} is 10 \ (F but not S).

6. The Venn diagram shows information about two sets A and B.

 

Probability symbol practice question 6

 

Calculate P(A\cup{B’}).

\frac{15}{20}
GCSE Quiz True

\frac{5}{20}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{8}{20}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{12}{20}
GCSE Quiz False

The frequency of A\cup{B’} is 3 + 4 + 8 = 15.

Probability symbol GCSE questions

1. Cards numbered 1 to 100 are shuffled and one is selected at random.

If A = \{ square numbers \} and B = \{ cube numbers \}.

 

(a) Write the numbers in sets A and B.

 

(b) Calculate the value of P(A\cup{B}).

 

(c) Calculate the value of P(A\cap{B}).

 

(4 marks)

Show answer

(a)

 

A = \{1,4,9,16,25,36,49,64,81,100\}.

(1)

B = \{1,8,27,64\}.

(1)

 

(b)

 

\frac{12}{100}

(1)

 

(c)

 

\frac{2}{100}

(1)

2. The Venn diagram shows the number of students in a class of 30 who wish to study creative subjects for A level.

M = \{ students wishing to study Music \}

D = \{ students wishing to study Drama \}

 

Probability symbol gcse question 2

 

(a) Calculate the value of P(M\cap{D’}). Write your answer as a fraction in the simplest form.

 

(b) Calculate P({M’}\cup{D’}).

 

(5 marks)

Show answer

(a)

 

Fraction out of 30.

(1)

\frac{5}{30}

(1)

\frac{1}{6}

(1)

 

(b)

 

Fraction out of 30.

(1)

\frac{23}{30}

(1)

3. The Venn diagram shows information about pets owned by a class of 25 students.

 

D = \{ own a dog \}

C = \{ own a cat \}

 

Probability symbol gcse question3

 

(a) Find P(D’\cap{C’}).

 

(b) Find P(C’\cup{D}).

 

(4 marks)

Show answer

(a)

 

Fraction out of 25.

(1)

\frac{9}{25}

(1)

 

(b)

 

Fraction out of 25.

(1)

\frac{21}{25}

(1)

Learning checklist

You have now learned how to:

  • Enumerate sets and unions/intersections of sets systematically, using tables, grids and Venn diagrams

Beyond GCSE

The study of probability theory and statistics is covered much more in depth at A level. This is because there are certain situations where the probability of an event cannot be given and so we have to define a probability from a range.

This in turn means that there are an increasing number of probability and statistics symbols covered, including the use of greek letters.

Probability theory studies at A level include,

  • Probability distributions including their geometric distribution,
    ◌ The normal distribution
    ◌ The binomial distribution
    ◌ The poisson distribution
  • Probability density functions
  • Cumulative distribution functions (cdf)
  • Correlation (corr) and regression
  • Sample standard deviation (std), variance and covariance (cov)
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Factorials
  • Permutations
  • Probability mass function (pmf)
  • Population mean and sample mean
  • Set theory
  • Summation

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