Research highlight

Education: Females show more sustained test-taking performance than males

Nature Communications

September 4, 2019

Females are better at sustaining their performance during tests in reading, maths and science than males, reports a study in Nature Communications. Longer tests were also associated with a reduction in the gender gap in scores in maths tests.

Pau Balart and Matthijs Oosterveen conducted two studies to investigate test performance and its implications for gender gaps in test scores. In the first study, they used data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international standardized test taken every three years assessing 15 year-olds’ performance in maths, science, and reading. Using data from the tests taken in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015 in 74 countries, they found that females outperformed males on verbal reading tests, while males outperformed females on maths and science tests - supporting previous findings. However, regardless of the type of test, females showed more sustained performance than males. For more than 20% of the countries included, the gender gap in maths and science scores was offset or reversed after two hours of test taking. In a second study, the authors used a dataset of male and female performance on 441 maths tests of varying length. Here, longer tests were associated with a smaller gender gap in maths performance.

These findings suggest that performance sustainability and test length are factors in understanding the relatively low number of females working in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and maths), given that standardized measures of STEM may affect future educational and career choices or opportunities.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11691-y

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