Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fill In the Blank - WAPPP Seminar Series

The Woman: Katie Baldiga, Doctoral Candidate, Harvard University
The Talk: Gender Differences in Willingness to Guess and the Implications for Test Scores
The Question: Do Men and Women Perform Differently on SATs?

The short answer, according to Katie Baldiga of Harvard University, is yes.

In a recent study, Baldiga discovered that when men and women were given multiple choice tests, men were more likely to guess answers they didn't know, while women were likely to skip questions they didn't know, resulting in an on-average reduction of 5 points from their raw score. In SAT terms, this is a 70 point drop.

This carries implications for how men and women perform in testing environments, says Baldiga, because the data suggests that such tests reward risk-takers rather than those who are risk averse. Ruling out lack of knowledge or confidence as factors, Baldiga was able to find a link between women's risk aversion, their desire to compete, and how many questions they skipped. The results have interesting implications: women answer only what they think they know, while men tend to answer regardless of the consequences.

The results carry important implications for future standardized test design. Might we, for instance, design a multiple-choice format that doesn't penalize skipped questions? Is there a way of controlling for risk in standardized tests?

If we do so, we may even the playing field between those who take risks and those who don't. Or, as Victoria Budson mentioned, we may even the playing field between those who guess right and few times, or those who guess wrong, but guess often -- and are rewarded for it.

*Photo courtesy of
Education Week

Effie-Michelle Metallidis is an MPP1 candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and a participant in WAPPP's From Harvard Square to the Oval Office program.

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