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

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.

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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.


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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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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