Each statistical test has an associated null hypothesis, the p-value is the probability that your sample could have been drawn from the population(s) being tested (or that a more improbable sample could be drawn) given the assumption that the null hypothesis is true. A p-value of .05, for example, indicates that you would have only a 5% chance of drawing the sample being tested if the null hypothesis was actually true.

Null Hypothesis are typically statements of no difference or effect. A p-value close to zero signals that your null hypothesis is false, and typically that a difference is very likely to exist. Large p-values closer to 1 imply that there is no detectable difference for the sample size used. A p-value of 0.05 is a typical threshhold used in industry to evaluate the null hypothesis. In more critical industries (healthcare, etc.) a more stringent, lower p-value may be applied.

More specifically, the p-value of a statistical significance test represents the probability of obtaining values of the test statistic that are equal to or greater in magnitude than the observed test statistic. To calculate a p-value, collect sample data and calculate the appropriate test statistic for the test you are performing. For example, t-statistic for testing means, Chi-Square or F statistic for testing variances etc. Using the theoretical distribution of the test statistic, find the area under the curve (for continuous variables) in the direction(s) of the alternative hypothesis using a look up table or integral calculus. In the case of discrete variables, simply add up the probabilities of events occurring in the direction(s) of the alternative hypothesis that occur at and beyond the observed test statistic value.