Testing Practices May Be Driving Women Out of Some STEM Disciplines, Study Finds


A new study led by Cissy J. Ballen of the University of Minnesota and Shima Salehi of Stanford University, found that women students in introductory biology courses performed worse on average than men on high-stakes examinations but better on other types of assessments, such as lab work and written assignments.

The researchers collected data on 1,562 students in 10 large introductory biology course sections during the fall 2016 semester. A majority of these students were women. The researchers analyzed exam scores as well as students’ performance on non-exam assessments like lab activities, discussion sections, written assignments and low-stakes quizzes. On average, the researchers found, female students underperformed compared to males on biology course exams. They did better than males, however, on the non-exam assessments.

The study also shows that the anxiety of taking an exam has a more significant impact on women’s grades than it does for men. Researchers surveyed the participants and asked them to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 several questions such as “I am so nervous during a test that I cannot remember facts that I have learned.” Women who reported high test anxiety tended to score lower. There was no similar effect for men.


Shima Salehi, a doctoral student at Stanford Graduate School of Education and a co-author of the study, stated that “we found that these types of exams disadvantage women because of the stronger effect that test anxiety has on women’s performance.”

The study, “Exams Disadvantage Women in Introductory Biology,” was published on the PLOS One website. It may be accessed here. Also listed as an author of the study is Sehoya Cotner of the department of biology teaching and learning at the University of Minnesota.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply