I'm interested into sampling from a population, with a long time to get a sample (O(1), usually 1/2 mins), with lots of candidate populations to sample from (running a metaheuristic optimization). I would like to limit as much as possible the need for superfluous sampling.

The goal is to give a 95% confidence interval of the 5th centile of the population performance (95% of the population should have a higher performance).

Then I should be able given that CI to decide deterministicaly to resample or not, if the CI is tight enough.

Given I want to work with small samples, I thought of using a t-distribution. Using the one sided t-value (95% CI, n-1), with $\mu_5$ as the current sample 5th percentile of performance, $\sigma$ as the current sample standard deviation (SD), $n$ as the current sample size, I obtain the formula :

$$\mu_5 - \frac{\sigma}{\sqrt{n}} \times t_{value}$$

It means my 5th percentile has 95% chance to be superior to this value.

First, is it statistically correct ? Second, does it make sense to compute the difference between the computed 5th percentile and the obtained 95% confidence 5th percentile to decide if I should stop sampling ?

I'm also looking for any procedure that would make a more efficient use of the samples, since sampling is expensive in compute time (I thought about bootstrapping, but I have no clue on how to use it effectively for the problem at hand).

Thanks ! :)


1 Answer 1


If you do not know that your population is normally distributed or indeed anything about how your population is distributed, then that may not be an optimal approach

Instead, I would suggest choosing from the order statistics from your samples. I think you can use the inverse cumulative distribution function of the binomial, for example in R if you had a sample size of $10000$:

quantile   <- 0.05
confidence <- 0.95
samplesize <- 10000
qbinom((1-confidence)/2, samplesize, quantile)   
# 458
qbinom((1+confidence)/2, samplesize, quantile) + 1
# 544

to say that a $95\%$ confidence interval for the $5$th percentile of your population is $\left[x_{(458)}, x_{(544)}\right]$. It should not be a surprise that $x_{(500)}$ would be near the middle of this

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer ! Do you have any interesting resources to suggest, so I can look further into it ? :) Also, wouldn't the low quantity of samples tend to make the lower bound close or equal to the 1st lowest sample ? (I make use of 50 samples atm, which is too long for a qualitative search in the state space; when I see the low variance of some state space samples I think less than 10 samples may be appropriate) $\endgroup$
    – Seb
    Apr 26, 2019 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is that if you have $71$ or fewer observations, the probability that all of them exceed the $5$th percentile of the population is more than $2.5\%$, since $0.95^{71}\approx 0.0262$. So if you do not know the shape of the distribution, this could be a problem and the lower end of your confidence interval should perhaps be $-\infty$ (or $0$ for a non-negative random variable). If you did have $72$ observations, a $95\%$ confidence interval for the $5$th percentile of your population would be $\left[x_{(1)}, x_{(8)}\right]$ $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Apr 26, 2019 at 16:56

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