There are many different classifications of probability distributions. Some of them include the normal distribution, chi square distribution, binomial distribution, and Poisson distribution. The different probability distributions serve different purposes and represent different data generation processes. The binomial distribution, for example, evaluates the probability of an event occurring several times over a given number of trials and given the event’s probability in each trial. and may be generated by keeping track of how many free throws a basketball player makes in a game, where 1 = a basket and 0 = a miss. Another typical example would be to use a fair coin and figuring the probability of that coin coming up heads in 10 straight flips. A binomial distribution is discrete, as opposed to continuous, since only 1 or 0 is a valid response.
The most commonly used distribution is the normal distribution, which is used frequently in finance, investing, science, and engineering. The normal distribution is fully characterized by its mean and standard deviation, meaning the distribution is not skewed and does exhibit kurtosis. This makes the distribution symmetric and it is depicted as a bell-shaped curve when plotted. A normal distribution is defined by a mean (average) of zero and a standard deviation of 1.0, with a skew of zero and kurtosis = 3. In a normal distribution, approximately 68% of the data collected will fall within +/- one standard deviation of the mean; approximately 95% within +/- two standard deviations; and 99.7% within three standard deviations. Unlike the binomial distribution, the normal distribution is continuous, meaning that all possible values are represented (as opposed to just 0 and 1 with nothing in between).