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Dr Jane Mellanby, University of Oxford
"Men are more likely to take risks"
 real 28k

Monday, 14 August, 2000, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Male students top the class
students working in university library
Studying hard: The secret of first class success?
More men than women get first class degrees - but not because they are more able or work harder, research suggests.

A study of students at Oxford University suggests the difference in results may be related to the nature of the exam process.

It's not because women are less clever

Dr Jane Mellanby

Researchers at the university's department of experimental psychology tested 115 male and 117 female undergraduates studying a range of degree courses, two to three months before their final exams.

A wide range of factors were assessed and measured, including intelligence, motivation, exam strategy, mood, self-esteem and self-efficacy, working patterns, loneliness and romantic involvement.

Once the students' final results were known, the researchers carried out analysis to try to discover which factors were most likely to help predict final grades.

Further investigation needed

The findings, published on Monday in the British Journal of Psychology, indicate that the male undergraduates studied expected to obtain higher degree results, and used higher risk revision strategies than the women.

The female students reported revising for longer hours, and were considered to have a generally higher "work ethic" than their male counterparts.

But despite these differences, the researchers concluded they could not be considered significant factors in predicting final results.

Instead, their report recommends further investigation into university assessment systems to try to determine the causes of the gender gap in achievement.

Difference between subjects

Dr Jane Mellanby, one of the report's co-authors, said: "The assessment system may have a first/2:1 borderline which is rewarding something that men do more than women.

"Our research was trying to pinpoint what the problem is, and we haven't got to it yet, although we have ruled out a number of factors.

"One thing we have ruled out is the so-called ability factor - it's not because women are less clever."

One factor which needed more consideration was that the gender gap was not present in all subjects - such as engineering, economics and management, biochemistry, physiological science and geography.

Dr Mellanby also pointed out that although more men than women achieved first class degrees, it did not mean men did better than women overall.

"Across the country, women do better than men when first and upper second class degrees are taken into account."

She said further, more detailed research into the issue was now being carried out by Oxford University, which was anxious to ensure its examination system was fair.

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