That universities have been bending the rules for women is well known. Just look at how the SAT has been changed to improve the results of women, or take into account that admissions procedures for many competitive degree programmes, such as medicine, give women a leg up in the interview to make up for their poorer results on standardised tests. Yes, men do better on the MCAT. The reason why women can’t compete with men at the top end of the ability spectrum is easy to see. It has to do with the fact that there are simply fewer women with very high IQs. Even your typical left-leaning scientist will grudgingly admit that when confronted with irrefutable evidence. They’ve tried refuting those studies, but couldn’t.
Now, let’s move from the abstract to the more concrete. It recently emerged that Oxford University has been deeply saddened by the comparatively poor performance of female students in mathematics and computer science. We learn that the number of male students who get a “First”, i.e. the top grade, in mathematics in 2017 was 45, while the corresponding number of female students was just 7. Absolute numbers are comparatively worthless, so I tried to dig up how many young men and women they enroll. I couldn’t find a more detailed breakdown, but the three-year average from 2014 to 2016 has around 400 males admitted to Mathematics, while the corresponding number for females is around 140. Drop-outs are quite rare in Oxford, but people do change their degrees. Anway, as a rough estimate, the number of women getting a first-class degree should be 100% higher to match their relative strength in the student body.
The solution for Oxford is to increase time limits for undergraduate exams from 90 minutes to 105 minutes. This seems to apply to both men and women, not just women, however. Feminists have criticized the changes “as ‘sexist’ as they believe it suggests that women are the weaker sex”. Well, they only do fare half as well as men, so that point should be proven by now. Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, there are essentially zero famous mathematicians. Yes, I know that Wikipedia lists a few dozen or so, but where is the female Gauss, Riemann, Cantor, Hilbert, Leibniz, Newton, or, for some more recent names, Perelman, or Tao? That’s right, they don’t exist.
The reasoning presented in the Daily Mail article for why women need more time is quite amusing:
While experts suggest there are no gender differences in mathematical ability, Sarah Hart, maths professor at Birkbeck, University of London, said she had noticed that female students double-checked their answers before suggesting them in class. Whereas male students were quicker to answer, but more likely to get them wrong.
If your “experts” claim there are no gender differences in mathematical ability, then they are simply wrong. That maths professor must also live in some kind of parallel universe, because in upper-level university classes at decent universities you don’t “double-check” your answers like in primary school. Instead, you work on your problem sets at home, and present your results in class.
Also, based on my experience taking proof-based maths courses, time isn’t really the issue. In exams you normally do simpler proofs than on problem sets, or maybe some variations you’ve studied, but with a twist. You either have the ability to solve it or not. If you run out of time, you’ll still get almost full marks with a correct sketch of the proof that leaves some steps unspecified. Yes, you can make a few mistakes and stil get an A or a First. What this change might lead to is help a few students who were close to getting a First and who may genuinely need the time, but that can’t be a lot of people. If you’ve mastered the material, you can lose a few points here and there and still get a First. Yet, if you have gaps, then a few extra minutes won’t be of much use as you can’t properly solve the problems anyway. As I happened to read in another article on that issue, there is already data of that experiment available, which seems to confirm this. The Telegraph reports:
However, despite the intention being to lessen gender discrepancies, the main effect of the time increase appears to have been an increase in the number of 2:1s overall, with 2:2 figures falling. Men continued to be awarded more first-class degrees than women in the two subjects.
Now we know that! It seems the only solution is to make exams easier, because we clearly need more Firsts. This is sarcasm, of course. Grade inflation does little good as it devalues the achievements of the truly stellar students. Yet, it may be the way forward. Well, there certainly is the perverse incentive of universities to devalue undergraduate degrees so that students have to go for at least a Master’s degree to distinguish themselves, before they realize that most of the other 30 to 40% of students in their cohort who got a First had the same idea. I wonder when the bubble will burst.
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