Analysis of covariance in randomized trials: More precision and valid confidence intervals, without model assumptions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


“Covariate adjustment” in the randomized trial context refers to an estimator of the average treatment effect that adjusts for chance imbalances between study arms in baseline variables (called “covariates”). The baseline variables could include, for example, age, sex, disease severity, and biomarkers. According to two surveys of clinical trial reports, there is confusion about the statistical properties of covariate adjustment. We focus on the analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) estimator, which involves fitting a linear model for the outcome given the treatment arm and baseline variables, and trials that use simple randomization with equal probability of assignment to treatment and control. We prove the following new (to the best of our knowledge) robustness property of ANCOVA to arbitrary model misspecification: Not only is the ANCOVA point estimate consistent (as proved by Yang and Tsiatis, 2001) but so is its standard error. This implies that confidence intervals and hypothesis tests conducted as if the linear model were correct are still asymptotically valid even when the linear model is arbitrarily misspecified, for example, when the baseline variables are nonlinearly related to the outcome or there is treatment effect heterogeneity. We also give a simple, robust formula for the variance reduction (equivalently, sample size reduction) from using ANCOVA. By reanalyzing completed randomized trials for mild cognitive impairment, schizophrenia, and depression, we demonstrate how ANCOVA can achieve variance reductions of 4 to 32%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1391-1400
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • imbalance
  • relative efficiency
  • robustness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics

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