The sad reasons why women may perform worse on tests than men.

Standardized tests: sexist by nature?

If mock college-entrance exams were the actual exams, more women might get top scores, new research has found.

But the same wasn't true for men in the study. And that could add to the idea that the way standardized tests work is gender biased.


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Researchers at the National University of Singapore analyzed how 8,000 young men and women performed on China's national college-entrance exam. They tracked the scores for both the actual exams and the mock ones, which students took a month beforehand.

They found that women were much more likely to perform better on the mock exam than the actual one. Nearly 1 in 6 women who didn't qualify for entry into a top school would have qualified if the mock exam scores had been the ones that counted.

But what's to blame for this discrepancy?

While the study didn't pinpoint a clear reason why this disparity exists, previous research may give us a hint.

And as NPR noted, the big c-word may be a culprit. Competition, that is; it favors guys.

Many studies have found that "women on average are simply not drawn to competition as much as men are drawn to competition," NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam explained. "So studies in the United States, for example, show that if you have a highly competitive setting, fewer women will step forward — and this is the really important bit to remember — even when the women are likely to do really well in the competition."

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This gender disparity could play a role in how women approach (and feel during) a real college entrance exam — arguably one of the biggest "competitions" a person can participate in.

So, are women to blame for their own shortcomings? Do they need to just, you know ... up their competitive edge with the big boys?

Not really. As Vedantam noted while citing other research, it's not that men are naturally more competitive than women. They tend to be more so in more patriarchal (read: sexist) societies.

Photo via iStock.

So, as one theory goes, the more patriarchal a society, the more competitive the men are, which may collectively have a negative effect on the women they're among.

But there are other factors that can hurt women in the test-taking process, too.

In the U.S., scores from the SAT tend to underpredict the success of women once they're actually in higher education. That may be because many standardized tests operate in ways that put girls and women at a disadvantage.

Men tend to score higher on multiple-choice questions (they're more willing to guess on questions they don't know the answer to). They also benefit from timed testing; one study found that when time limits were removed from the SAT, girls were far more likely to see their scores increase than boys.


Photo via iStock.

Negative stereotypes don't help, either. When a girl takes a math test, the stereotype that girls are worse at that subject may (subconsciously) give her more anxiety because the pressure's on for her to disprove the negative assumption. The same stereotype can apply to say, a black or Latino student who's been told by society they're somehow less "college material" than their white counterparts.

This has been dubbed "stereotype threat." And, ironically, it only perpetuates these fallacies by increasing test-taking anxiety among oppressed groups. Stereotype threat may help explain why research found that girls were more likely to do worse on their AP calculus exams if they checked the gender box before completing the exam rather than after.

Something needs to change.

If research tells us one gender (or any group, for that matter) is at a disadvantage when it comes to the way we test, shouldn't we be rethinking our ways?

It's not a matter of life and death, but it is a matter of passing or failing. And that can make a world of difference.

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As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

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Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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