Artificial Intelligence: What is Precision and Recall?


Precision and Recall are critical metrics used in the evaluation of classification models, especially in scenarios where the balance between false positives and false negatives is important. These metrics are particularly vital in fields like medical diagnosis, information retrieval, and binary classification tasks.

Defining Precision and Recall

  • Precision: Also known as the Positive Predictive Value, it measures the accuracy of the positive predictions. It is the ratio of correctly predicted positive observations to the total predicted positives. [ Precision = \frac{True \ Positives}{True \ Positives + False \ Positives} ]
  • Recall: Also known as Sensitivity or True Positive Rate, it measures the ability of the model to identify all relevant cases. It is the ratio of correctly predicted positive observations to all observations in the actual class. [ Recall = \frac{True \ Positives}{True \ Positives + False \ Negatives} ]

Importance in Classification Problems

  • In contexts where false negatives and false positives have different consequences, precision and recall offer a more nuanced understanding of a model’s performance than accuracy alone.

Trade-off Between Precision and Recall

  • Improving precision typically reduces recall and vice versa. This is known as the precision-recall tradeoff, which requires balancing based on the specific requirements of the task at hand.


  • Medical Testing: High recall is crucial to ensure all positive cases are identified, while precision ensures that the diagnosis is accurate.
  • Spam Detection: High precision is important to prevent important emails from being marked as spam.


  • Imbalanced Data: In datasets where one class significantly outnumbers the other, precision and recall become crucial metrics.
  • Selecting the Right Balance: Depending on the application, the focus on either precision or recall may vary.


Precision and Recall are indispensable metrics in the realm of classification problems, providing insights into the effectiveness and suitability of a model for specific applications. They help in understanding the balance between identifying relevant instances and maintaining accuracy in the model’s predictions.