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Sexism in exams (and how generally unrigorous they are)

(125 Posts)
larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 14:26:34

AIBU in being shocked at how unperturbed the media is in announcing a 9.2% outperformance by girls in the top four grades at GCSE?

How have we got to the stage where vague empathetic answers (at which girls excel) have become more important than learning hard facts and problem solving (which boys enjoy)?

In addition, how can anyone seriously debate the dumbing down of exams when 50% of all private school A level results came out at grade A. Frankly it is a joke and discriminates against the truly able. How are decent universities meant to select the top candidates? By lottery ticket?!
When I look at maths A level today, the questions are marginally above what I studied at O level and well below what I did at AO (the old exam taken by brighter pupils simultaneously to O level and by some others aged 17).

Why are parents of boys not crying foul and threatening to sue schools and exam boards using discrimination legislation. Were it a 9.2% bias in favour of girls, they certainly would be.

AliGrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 14:33:34

Larry, you know you can't win this one on here.

Good luck in defending your self.

Lots of love, your darling AliGrylls x

LaurieFairyCake Thu 27-Aug-09 14:36:29

Universities use many more criteria than exams. Extra-curriculur activities, community involvement, jobs etc.

Students are not awarded points for 'empathetic' answers but most certainly are for technique, problem-solving and 'facts'.

tethersend Thu 27-Aug-09 14:37:11

Err... I think, statistically, one gender pretty much has to do better than another; The chances of boys and girls performing equally across the country is pretty slim.

Perhaps working out the probability of that happening could be a maths 'A' level question?!

TheCrackFox Thu 27-Aug-09 14:38:55

I have 2 boys and I am not in the least bit worried about this.

Where is your evidence that girls are better at "vague emphatic answers" and boys "cold hard facts"?

FWIW I am bored to tears hearing about how easy exams are now. I did my "O" grades 22 years ago and it was the same old shit. I personally think it is a bunch jealous thicko baby boomers who can't believe that younger people might be brighter and work harder than them.

BitOfFun Thu 27-Aug-09 14:42:49

Nah, they are definitely easier grin

Oh, I can't be arsed arguing with the OP though- I peaked in the warm-up at school and haven't engaged my brain for years...

larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 14:45:06

Tethersand, your answer typifies the woeful comprehension of statistics which is caused by the complete lack of rigour in the exam system. If one assumes that boys and girls are equally competent, the results conform to a gaussian distribution and the sample size is in the millions (or at least hundreds of thousands), the chances by luck of one gender outperforming the other by more than 0.1% (or even less) is negligible. 9.2% is absolutely shocking and can ONLY be caused by bias....unless someone actually wants to propose that girls actually are brighter than boys.

LaurieFairyCake, it would be a sad day when a decent university in a rigorous subject (maths, science, a language, english) used community involvement, jobs or extra curricular activities to do anything other than separate out two virtually identical candidates. A university is (or at least should be) a challenging environment for the intellect. I know that the reality is that headmasters' reports are used a lot. However, it is a sad day when people sit essentially meaningless exams.

tethersend Thu 27-Aug-09 14:52:02

Christ on a bike.

TheCrackFox Thu 27-Aug-09 14:53:50

Tethersend haven't you got some knitting or something to be getting on with? Leave all that tricky statistic stuff to the menfolk. wink

larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 14:55:59

The Crackfox, we are not being a little sarcastic, are we? ;).

BitOfFun Thu 27-Aug-09 14:57:09

A lot goes on coursework nowadays though- arguably more realistic preparation for the world of work etc- and boys are notoriously bad at pulling their finger out until the last minute, so to speak, so don't really shine in areas which require diligence and consistent effort. A generalisation, of course, but there is something in it.

tethersend Thu 27-Aug-09 14:59:51

Now you mention it, Crackfox... <<starts crosstitching times tables>> wink

I think I might have to make an ill-informed Nazi analogy just to get out of this one alive.

larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 15:02:36

BitofFun, I basically agree with you. But why is that fair? When boys outperformed girls (they actually did once) there was uproar and a continuous effort to right the bias. Now the shoe is on the other foot, it is regarded as acceptable.

If you really want school to prepare students for the world of work, you need far less of the nice touchy/feely encouragement stuff, far more ruthless competition and, ideally, some sarcastic e mails from the teacher sitting at the other side of the room. On the other hand, maybe schools should stick to preparing students for universities and leave the work stuff till later.

BitOfFun Thu 27-Aug-09 15:07:51

Oh I think the teachers still manage to replicate the oppressive atmosphere of lower management at Secondary level if my teens are to be believed wink

morethanithot Thu 27-Aug-09 15:10:00

fwiw, i agree with you, but i think people tend to conflate similar issues when addressing these issues. there was a small unscientific study earlier this year, when some students were given old o'level maths papers, and i think only about 30% of them passed (>50, not A*). however, people think that because the children work hard, that is in itself sufficient justification for the quality of the work. i just leave things, and amuse myself when the checkout girl at tesco has to write down 75pence +75 pence to work out the right refund.

LaurieFairyCake Thu 27-Aug-09 15:12:21

But that was your point - that with so many 'A's they were virtually identical candidates hmm

Hence the universities using other criteria.

If you pop over to the Daily Mail website there is a story that boys are outperforming girls in maths - or does that not fit your argument?

larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 15:21:36

Laurie, they might appear identical but they are not. The AAA candidate varies from the slightly better than mediocre to the truly brilliant, with no way to discriminate between them. When I left school (a public school which comes about 30th in the country) about 7 pupils per annum achieved all As at A level. Now it would be 30 or 40. How does one distinguish those 7?

Maths is harder to make less rigorous than the other subjects, although they have still done a pretty good job of it (talking one through stage by stage rather than allowing one to solve the entire problem). I will check the Daily Mail but suspect the outperformance is relatively small.

mmrred Thu 27-Aug-09 15:24:03

I agree with the OP, exam boards are biased. They unreasonably favour children who work really really hard for 2 years.

LaurieFairyCake Thu 27-Aug-09 15:27:31

We appear to be going round in circles. I do not think they are identical candidates just because they have the same results. I think that universities quite rightly look for other criteria other than exam results.

Are you unhappy that they look for other criteria?

The exams are not dumbed down - what is happening is that they are taught much better exam technique (and to a certain extent taught to the exam because of bloomin' league tables).

Coursework is also a whole lot better. This is where they actually learn something rather than just relying on short term memorised facts for an exam.

Domokun Thu 27-Aug-09 15:28:02

I agree with the OP. It's pretty clear that somehow the system is failing boys really badly, because there's been a statistically very significant difference between boys' and girls' performance for many years now. I'm also concerned by the apparent lack of interest displayed in this issue by the media.

larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 15:36:28

Laurie, you are dreaming when you say exams have not been dumbed down. If you look at maths and the sciences you can look at the questions and see that they are easier.

In addition, university dons say that pupils are coming into university with a far lower knowledge base than they used to. Many report teaching the whole first year to get pupils to where they used to be when they started. These are the people who should know!

And, as to my personal view of looking at other criteria, they should only be marginal. A university education SHOULD be all about academics, not social responsibility or aptitude to work. Clearly, for the less academically able and the less rigorous courses, other things may become more important.

LovelyTinOfSpam Thu 27-Aug-09 15:37:55

I am bridling somewhat at the suggestion that what girls can do is "vague empathetic answers" while boys do facts and problem solving.

So girls are good at flim flam while boys have superior analytical minds?

In fact more than bridling. I do hope you have no daughters.

Hulababy Thu 27-Aug-09 15:40:58

Exam results rise = exams too easy
Exam results fall = teachers and schools are failing pupils


Same old arguements year on year, and at least since I took my exams 20 years ago.

I just feel sorry for the children recieving exam results at the same time they have been told the exams are easier.

Why do exams now award ore for technique, coursework, analysis than reciting cold hard facts? Because it refers more to real life work and the type of skills required for the working world perhaps.

larrygrylls Thu 27-Aug-09 15:45:01

LovelyTinOfSpam...what is your explanation for the 9.2% outperformance? I do hope you have no sons.

Hulababy, I too feel sorry for the children. It is not their fault. In the late 80s, early 90s exam boards stopped adjusting their marks for ease of papers (it used to be top X% got As, next Y% got Bs etc). This allowed exam boards to start competing on easiness. Who would do an exam with a "harder" board? It was at that point that the decline started.

LovelyTinOfSpam Thu 27-Aug-09 15:47:51

Why do you hope I have no sons?

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