A piece by two female journalists (Sian Griffiths and Julie Henry) in today’s Sunday Times. The emphases are ours.
Oxford University students were given longer to complete exams for the first time last summer in an effort to help women achieve higher grades.
Extended durations for exams have been introduced by the mathematical and computer sciences departments in response to a growing gender gap, especially in final year exams.
Undergraduates were given 105 minutes to complete papers rather than 90 minutes “with no change in length or difficulty of questions”. The university said women did better as a result.
It is hoped the change will reduce “the undue effects of time pressure”, which is thought to have more of an impact on female students than male ones.
Helen Zha, a member of Oxford’s Mirzakhani Society for women studying maths, said female undergraduates were more likely to experience problem-solving difficulties when male students were in the same room.
She said: “One thing I’ve heard and felt [J4MB: Heard AND felt? This trumps peer-reviewed scientific research, any day.] is that where there are more males in the room, women will . . . perform worse than they would otherwise.” [J4MB: Hmm, what would be the “solution” to this “problem”? Of course. Give women higher grades when they’re forced to sit exams in the same room as men. Sorted. And later, in the workplace environment? Give women more money if they have to work with men, or segregate the sexes. Sorted.]
The change to maths exams follows a decision by the history department to replace a traditional exam with a “take-home” paper, also done in an effort to try to boost results for female students. The move was criticised as “sexist” by some academics for implying that women were the “weaker sex”.
Of all subjects at Oxford, maths has one of the biggest gender variations in results. Just seven female maths finalists achieved firsts last year compared with 45 men. This means that 21.2% of women on the course graduated with first-class degrees against 45.5% of men.
Maths dons at Oxford looked at whether “shorter exams may particularly disadvantage women” and pointed out that exams were not supposed to be “a time trial”.
Internal documents obtained under freedom of information laws show the decision to extend the time of examination papers “with no change in length or difficulty of questions” had the intention of reducing the disadvantage to “students most sensitive to time pressure and stress”.
The document said: “It is thought that this might mitigate the . . . gender gap that has arisen in recent years, [J4MB: This simply begs the question of why the gap has arisen in recent years, and regardless of the answer to that question, why it’s a problem, other than when viewed through a feminist ideological lens] and in any case the exam should be a demonstration of mathematical understanding and not a time trial.”
It is widely accepted that there are no inherent gender differences in mathematical ability or intelligence. [J4MB: A truly absurd “argument from assertion”. In which cohort of people is that “generally accepted”? Obese one-legged Spanish feminists with blue hair? From an earlier paragraph: “Of all subjects at Oxford, maths has one of the biggest gender variations in results.”] However, Sarah Hart, a maths professor at Birkbeck, University of London and an Oxford graduate, said she had noticed a tendency for female students to double-check their answers in their heads [J4MB: In their heads? Probably the best option, given possible alternatives e.g. in their legs] before suggesting them to class. [J4MB: Two points. Double-checking is time wasting, why should exams be extended to accommodate it? And it’s suggestive of anxiety and/or narcissism – “before suggesting them to class” – both of which are qualities likely to be problematical in the workplace, and more generally in the “real world”.]
Male students were quicker to answer questions, she said, but were more likely to get the answer wrong. [J4MB: Male students’ higher grades suggest they were also more likely to get the answer RIGHT.]
She added: “I am a big fan of giving people as much time as they want to do exams. [J4MB: Because that’s how people will later compete in the real world, amirite?] After all, you never have to prove theorems against the clock in real life so mere speed is not what we want to assess.”
Oxford University said: “The departments are not drawing any firm conclusions from the first year’s data. [J4MB: Beyond confirming yet again that there’s no limit to how far female privileging and anti-meritocratic initiatives can be pushed in academia, as elsewhere, without effective opposition] However, third-year female students did show an improvement on their second-year marks. While there is clearly more progress to be made, the departments will continue with the longer papers for the foreseeable future, monitoring the exam data carefully.” [J4MB: With the ultimate objective being…?]
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