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Do women need extra time on math tests?

by Greg Krehbiel on 24 January 2018

Oxford University gives women more time to pass exams

Women weren’t doing as well on the tests in math and computer science, and the dons thought “female candidates might be more likely to be adversely affected by time pressure,” so Oxford University extended the time on tests. They didn’t change the test, they just gave everybody more time.

It didn’t work. Men continued to outperform women. But … was it the right thing to do?

I’m not sure. Is the ability to take a test quickly a good predictor of actual math ability? If so, they shouldn’t have lengthened the test time. But if not, I don’t see any problem with it — so long as everybody gets the same amount of time.

2018-01-24  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 5

  1. pentamom
    24 January 2018 @ 10:43 am

    I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t be surprised if speed is not a good predictor if you’re talking about actual mathematics as you would study in a university, rather than arithmetic or even high school level math.

    So it would depend on what kind of math you’re talking about.

    I’m suspicious of anything that is done in order to get higher success numbers for women, but I *could* see this as a matter of, “We’re possibly losing a pool of people who have talent at math but not speed.” And it’s just possible that women fall disproportionately into that category. How likely that it is to be the case here, I’m not sure.

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    24 January 2018 @ 10:56 am

    My initial reaction was to think this was a bad thing. Why should they change it just so women can do better?

    But then I stopped to wonder whether they were testing the right thing. If the test is measuring people on the wrong thing, the test should be changed. And it’s certainly possible that a test could disproportionately affect one group.

    It’s relatively easy to imagine, for example, that some geometry tests might discriminate against left-handed people by requiring an image to be drawn a certain way. All it has to do is make it marginally more difficult for them, and they would not do as well. And if that thing — the orientation of the image, or where you have to draw it, or whatever — isn’t critical to mastering the subject, then the test should be changed.

  3. William
    24 January 2018 @ 4:11 pm

    @Greg and pentamom…you both make good points. For me, the determining factor is clearly understanding the appropriate metrics. If pace is not a legitimate factor in the demonstration of subject matter knowledge and/or expertise, then lengthening the test is immaterial.

  4. Robin R.
    24 January 2018 @ 7:43 pm

    Don’t women have to occasionally fix their hair, polish their nails, and put on fresh lipstick while they are doing just about anything? That would certainly account for the extra time they need to take a math test. How can you concentrate on anything when you know that your mascara is running?

  5. Robin R.
    24 January 2018 @ 7:46 pm

    So I say: Give them the extra time so that they don’t have to worry their pretty little heads about cosmetic dysfunction.

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