Male college students tended to predict higher scores on their impending chemistry tests than their female classmates, even though their actual performance on those tests was nearly identical, according to a study co-authored by a faculty member at Southern.
The results of the research by Jeffrey Webb, assistant professor of chemistry at SCSU, and Andrew Karatjas, associate science professor at Johnson and Wales University, were published in in a recent article in the Journal of College Science Teaching. Karatjas is a former faculty member at SCSU.
“This difference in perception could play a role in the gender gap that we see in the higher levels of the sciences,” Webb said. “There is parity in ability, but their perceptions were significantly different.”
Among students who tallied scores of higher than 90 percent, as well as those with scores of less than 50 percent, gender played little or no role in perception. “A” students tended to underestimate how they would fare with little difference based on gender. Similarly, male and female students who failed with scores of less than 50 percent overestimated their eventual score by about the same margin.
But among the mid-level students – those scoring between 50 and 90 — a statistically significant difference was found. A perception gender gap of 2.3 percent existed among “B” students, a 3.6-percent gap existed among “C” students and a 4.2-percent gap existed among “D” students. Those who scored between 50 and 59 percent had a 4.1-percent gap.
In general, “A” students underestimated their abilities; “B” students slightly underestimated their skills; while “C” “D” and “F” students overestimated their abilities, but males overestimated at a more pronounced level.
A total of 2,547 surveys were collected in the 100-level courses at SCSU during a 16-month period that included the spring 2013, summer 2013, fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters. The surveys asked students what grade they believed they would get on that particular test, and the process was repeated before each test.
Webb, a resident of Branford, said that far fewer women than men nationally are enrolled in doctoral science programs.
“There is a slight difference at the master’s degree level, but a major difference at the Ph.D. level,” he said. “Based on this study, that gender gap might be associated with how women tend to perceive their science ability. If you don’t think you are good at something, you are less likely to pursue it at the higher level. That might well be what is happening.”