Why are precision, recall and F1 score equal when using micro averaging in a multi-class problem?

In a recent project I was wondering why I get the exact same value for precision, recall and the F1 score when using scikit-learn’s metrics. The project is about a simple classification problem where the input is mapped to exactly \(1\) of \(n\) classes. I was using micro averaging for the metric functions, which means the following according to sklearn’s documentation:

Calculate metrics globally by counting the total true positives, false negatives and false positives.

According to the documentation this behaviour is correct:

Note that for “micro”-averaging in a multiclass setting with all labels included will produce equal precision, recall and F, while “weighted” averaging may produce an F-score that is not between precision and recall.

After thinking about it a bit I figured out why this is the case. In this article, I will explain the reasons.

Definitions of precision, recall and F1 score

First I will repeat the definitions of precision, recall and the F1 score. Remember that true positive samples (TP) are samples that were classified positive and are really positive. False positive samples (FP) are samples that were classified positive but should have been classified negative. Analogously, false negative samples (FN) were classified negative but should be positive. Here, TP, FP and FN stand for the respective number of samples in each of the classes.

Precision \(P = \frac{TP}{TP+FP}\)
Precision can be intuitively understood as the classifier’s ability to only predict really positive samples as positive. For example, a classifier that classifies just everything as positive would have a precision of 0.5 in a balanced test set (50% positive, 50% negative). One that has no false positives, i.e. classifies only the true positives as positive would have a precision of 1.0. So basically, the less false positives a classifier gives, the higher is its precision.

Recall \(R = \frac{TP}{TP+FN}\)
Recall can be interpreted as the amount of positive test samples that were actually classified as positive. A classifier that just outputs positive for every sample, regardless if it is really positive, would get a recall of 1.0 but a lower precision. The less false negatives a clasifier gives, the higher is its recall.

So the higher precision and recall are, the better the classifier performs because it detects most of the positive samples (high recall) and does not detect many samples that should not be detected (high precision). In order to quantify that, we can use another metric called F1 score.

F1 score \(F1 = 2 \frac{P * R}{P + R}\)
This is just the weighted average between precision and recall. The higher precision and recall are, the higher the F1 score is. You can directly see from this formula, that if \(P=R\), then \(F1=P=R\), because:

$$F1 = 2 \frac{P * R}{P + R} = 2 \frac{P * P}{P + P} = 2 \frac{P^2}{2P} = \frac{P^2}{P} = P$$

So this already explains why the F1 score is the same as precision and recall, if precision and recall are the same. But why are recall and precision the same when using micro averaging? Let’s look at an example to understand this.

Example: How to calculate precision, recall and F1 score using micro averaging

In order to calculate precision and recall, we need to know the amount of TP, FP and FN samples. How can you determine TP, FP and FN when you have a non-binary problem, i.e. more than just positive and negative as output? Imagine you have 3 classes (1,2,3) and each sample belongs to exactly one class. The following table shows the predicitons of our classifier for 9 test samples together with their correct labels.

Label 1 2 3 2 3 3 1 2 2
Prediction 2 2 1 2 1 3 2 3 2

TP is the amount of samples that were predicted to have the correct label. In this example, TP = 4 (all green cells)
FP is the amount of labels that got a “vote” but shouldn’t. For example, in the first column, 1 should have been predicted, but 2 was predicted. So there is a false positive for class 2 in this case. On the other hand, if the prediction is right (column 2), there is no FP counted. In this example, FP = 5 (all red cells)
FN is the amount of labels that should have been predicted, but weren’t. Look at the first column again. 1 should have been predicted, but wasn’t. So there is a FN for class 1 in this case. As in the FP case, there is no FN counted if the prediction is correct (column 2). In this example, FP = 5 (all red cells)

In other words, if there is a false positive, there will always also be a false negative and vice versa, because always one class if predicted. If class A is predicted and the true label is B, then there is a FP for A and a FN for B. If the prediction is correct, i.e. class A is predicted and A is also the true label, denn there is neither a false positive nor a false negative but only a true positive. So there is no possibility that would increase only FP or FN but not both. That is why precision and recall are always the same when using the micro averaging scheme.

Now let’s actually calculate the values of precision, recall and F1 score.

Precision \(P = \frac{4}{4+5} = \frac{4}{9} = 0.4444\)
Recall \(R = \frac{4}{4+5} = \frac{4}{9} = 0.4444\)
F1 score \(F1 = 2 \frac{\frac{4}{9} * \frac{4}{9}}{\frac{4}{9} + \frac{4}{9}} = \frac{\frac{4}{9}^2}{\frac{4}{9}} = \frac{4}{9} = 0.4444\)

We can see that all metric values are identical.

Note: Since micro averaging does not distinguish between different classes and then just averages their metric scores, this averaging scheme is not prone to inaccurate values due to an unequally distributed test set (e.g. 3 classes and one of these has 98% of the samples). This is why I prefer this scheme over the macro averaging scheme. Besides micro averaging, one might also consider weighted averaging in case of an unequally distributed data set.

Macro averaging and weighted averaging

Note that the explanation above is only true when using micro averaging! When using macro averaging, the implementation is working as follows (source: sklearn documentation):

Calculate metrics for each label, and find their unweighted mean. This does not take label imbalance into account.

In this case, for each class 1,2,3 the values for precision, recall and F1 score are calculated separately and then averaged regardless of their occurrence ratio in the dataset. So if two classes only occur 1% each and the third class occurs 98% and the bigger class is always predicted correctly but the smaller often wrong, then the F1 score would still be very bad while it would be good with micro averaging or weighted averaging.

When using weighted averaging, the occurrence ratio would also be considered in the calculation, so in that case the F1 score would be very high (as only 2% of the samples are predicted mainly wrong). It always depends on your use case what you should choose. If the smaller classes are very important, then probably the weighted approach would be a bad choice and you should go for macro averaging.

Example: Macro averaging

For the sake of completeness, I am also going to show how precision, recall and F1 score are calculated when using macro averaging instead of micro averaging. In this case, we first have to look at each class separately. Now we can treat every class as a binary label (class predicted yes/no).

In the previous example (see table above), each class has the following TP, FN, FP values and the following precision (P), recall (R) and F1 scores:

Class 1: TP = 0 / FN = 2 / FP = 2 => P = \(0\) / R = \(0\) / F1 = \(0\)
Class 2: TP = 3 / FN = 1 / FP = 2 => P = \(\frac{3}{5}\) / R = \(\frac{3}{4}\) / F1 = \(\frac{2}{3}\)
Class 3: TP = 1 / FN = 2 / FP = 1 => P = \(\frac{1}{2}\) / R = \(\frac{1}{3}\) / F1 = \(\frac{2}{5}\)

All classes combined:
TP = 4 / FN = 5 / FP = 5 (by the way, these are the same values as in the micro average example!)

Precision (average over all classes): 0.36667
Recall (average over all classes): 0.36111
F1 (average over all classes): 0.35556

These values differ from the micro averaging values! They are much lower than the micro averaging values because class 1 has not even one true positive, so very bad precision and recall for that class.

The scores obtained using weighted-average would be closer to the micro-average scores as this also respects class imbalances [just an intuitive guess that I have not proved formally yet].

I am skipping a full example of the weighted averaging scheme, but the only difference would be that instead of weighting every class by 1, you would weight it by the amount of samples in your test data and then divide the sum by the number of samples in all classes together.

Code example for micro, macro and weighted averaging

In case you are wondering how to use the metrics with scikit-learn (sklearn) with the different averages, here is some Python 3 code for you:

from sklearn.metrics import precision_score, recall_score, f1_score

# These values are the same as in the table above
labels      = [1,2,3,2,3,3,1,2,2]
predicitons = [2,2,1,2,1,3,2,3,2]

print("Precision (micro): %f" % precision_score(labels, predicitons, average='micro'))
print("Recall (micro):    %f" % recall_score(labels, predicitons, average='micro'))
print("F1 score (micro):  %f" % f1_score(labels, predicitons, average='micro'), end='\n\n')

print("Precision (macro): %f" % precision_score(labels, predicitons, average='macro'))
print("Recall (macro):    %f" % recall_score(labels, predicitons, average='macro'))
print("F1 score (macro):  %f" % f1_score(labels, predicitons, average='macro'), end='\n\n')

print("Precision (weighted): %f" % precision_score(labels, predicitons, average='weighted'))
print("Recall (weighted):    %f" % recall_score(labels, predicitons, average='weighted'))
print("F1 score (weighted):  %f" % f1_score(labels, predicitons, average='weighted'))


Precision (micro): 0.444444
Recall (micro): 0.444444
F1 score (micro): 0.444444

Precision (macro): 0.366667
Recall (macro): 0.361111
F1 score (macro): 0.355556

Precision (weighted): 0.433333
Recall (weighted): 0.444444
F1 score (weighted): 0.429630

Questions or comments?

If you have any questions, comments or found a mistake in this article, please feel free to leave a comment below!

15 thoughts to “Why are precision, recall and F1 score equal when using micro averaging in a multi-class problem?”

  1. Thanks for the wonderful explanation :). Can you also explain how to calculate micro/macro averages in case of multiclass multilabel problems?

    1. Hi,
      do you mean a paper? No, there is just this blog article. I found most information on Wikipedia, you probably find more sources there

    2. @Simon:
      I hope you do not mind me accessing this in my journal article’s appendix – I will properly cite you.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. I was just wondering: isn’t this issue regarding the same amount of FP and FN in micro averaging true for binary classification as well? You always have to wrongly reject one class if you falsely accept another. In other words, you directly compare two classes regardless of how many other classes potentially exist.


  3. I disagree with the statement that micro is better than macro for class imbalance
    for example, a credit card fraud dataset with 900 “no fraud” and 100 “fraud”, if the prediction model only detect all the majority of 900 “no fraud” data and detecting 0 “fraud” data, using micro, the precision would be 90%.
    It is not good because what we want to know is whether there would be a fraud or not and it means that both classes have to be equally measured to show that the model could predict fraud and no fraud cases correctly.

  4. I found out that even accuracy is the same as micro F1. How does that make sense? I was looking at micro F1 to be a better metric at classifying examples from imbalanced dataset. Accuracy wouldn’t make sense in such dataset; but micro F1 won’t make sense either (because they are equal)?? And the post above just mentioned that micro F1 should be used instead of macro F1 in such case. How does this all relate?

    1. Yes, you are right. I also noticed that Micro F score is actually same as accuracy. It is tricky but it is true. We wanted to find a better metrics than accuracy but end up with the same thing in another name.
      Actually micro f score is not good when you have imbalance set. Because it will be heavily influenced by the TP of the class taking up the majority of the set. Doing poorly on a class of little portion will do little harm to the micro f score. That IS sensitive to imbalance set. So I suggest to use macro f score.

  5. Dear Simon,

    Thanks for your clear explanation. Do you have reason why using micro averaging rather than macro or weighted averaging?

  6. Hi,
    I hope you do not mind me accessing this in my article – I will properly cite you.


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