Friday, June 11, 2010

The SAT Is Rigged Against Girls

The SAT, like other things in our sexist society, is rigged against girls.

Questions Sexism

The SAT has questions about traditionally feminine subjects and traditionally masculine subjects. Note the word “traditionally”; I’m not saying these subjects are masculine or feminine, only that boys and girls are socialized to view those subjects as masculine or feminine.

There are some questions on the SAT where there is a big difference in girls’ and boys’ scores and a 1989 study by Phyllis Rosser (The SAT Gender Gap: Identifying the Causes) found that the vast majority of questions where there was a big difference in girls’ and boys’ scores were questions about traditionally masculine subjects. Rosser discovered that overall girls performed better than boys on questions about “feminine” subjects like relationships, aesthetics and the humanities and boys did better on “masculine” questions about sports, physical sciences and business. So the College Board stacks the deck against girls by deliberately including a lot more questions about traditionally masculine subjects.

Further proof that “masculine” themed questions increase boys’ scores is ETS researcher Carol Dwyer’s 1976 report that documented that during the first few years of the SAT females got higher scores on the Verbal section and female’s superior performance on the Verbal section upset the ETC policy makers, so they added questions about “masculine” subjects of politics, business and sports so males would feel more confident answering the questions. The “masculine” questions increased the males’ scores so much that they scored higher than females on the Verbal section for the first time in the history of the SAT. This shows that the more “masculine” themed questions the SAT has, the higher boys’ score will be. So the fact that the College Board deliberately chooses more “masculine” themed questions is proof that they rig the test in favor of boys. Also, although Dwyer’s research was about the change of the questions on the Verbal section, logically, it would apply for “masculine” themed questions on the Math section as well. Thus, boys would score higher (and girls lower) on math questions using traditional “masculine” themes such as sports.

Format Sexism

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the College Board conducted a study of different question formats (i.e. short answer, essay, constructed response, and multiple choice). Females got the lowest scores when answering multiple choice questions. Sex differences disappeared or decreased with every type of question except multiple choice. Thus, females’ SAT scores are different depending on the format of the question and the absolute worst format for females (that results in the lowest scores) is the multiple choice format. Yet, all questions on the Critical Reading section and the majority of questions on the Math section are multiple choice. Thus, the College Board has rigged the SAT in favor of boys by formatting almost all the questions in the format that they know will lower girls’ scores the most. The saddest thing is that the College Board does this deliberately; they knowingly administer the test format that inflicts the maximum damage to girls.

Sexist Guessing Penalty

The SAT’s guessing penalty deducts one-quarter point for every wrong answer. Because students often know some of the multiple choice answers are obviously wrong, that often narrows their guess to three answers; thus, if they guess they have a one-third chance of getting the answer right which favors them since they only lose one-fourth point for a wrong guess. Research on the SAT found that females have a strong tendency to avoid answering a question unless they are certain of the answer and this revulsion towards guessing lowers girls’ scores. It’s well known that females take less risks than males (i.e. research that shows males have more of a preference for reckless driving, risking jail time by committing crime, and making riskier investment decisions), thus the SAT is rigged against girls by scaring them with the wrong answer penalty to prevent them from guessing by implying to the more law-abiding females that it’s bad to guess and because it’s well-known that females take fewer risks than males, while at the same time rewarding boys’ increased desire for risk by designing the test in such a way that actually rewards risk guessing.

So on the surface the SAT is saying “guessing is bad and will be punished,” but on the sly they reward “bad” risk-taking question answerers. This exploits differences in male and female psychology in a way that favors males. As disciplinarian teachers and juvenile detention wardens can attest, girls obey rules and the law much more than boys do. Thus, warning test takers that “guessing is bad” has a much more powerful restraining effect on girls than on boys due to girls’ greater desire to obey the rules and avoid being bad.

I’m not arguing that this is genetic, merely that girls are much more likely to avoid doing something that they’ve been told is bad (probably due to socialization). So, when the College Board tells girls “guessing is bad” girls obey and refrain from guessing more than boys do. Note that the sex gap is smaller on the ACT which does not have a guessing penalty.

Sexist Time Limit

Research by FairTest documents “Numerous studies have found that when the time constraint is lifted from the test, females' scores improve markedly, while males' remain the same or increase slightly.” Thus, the time limit is sexist against girls because the only thing it does to students’ scores is lower girls’ scores while leaving boys’ scores virtually unaffected. The time limit has nothing to do with knowledge, but only measures working fast in a high-stakes once-in a lifetime short test, and punishes the much more valuable life ability pg taking the time to consider different aspects of a problem and checking for errors which girls do more than boys and for which they are punished by the time limit.

Considering the many ways the SAT is rigged against girls, I wouldn’t be surprised if the College Board suddenly removed the sexist practices girls scored 10-30 points higher than boys on all subjects. Until the sexism is removed that obviously favors boys and has nothing to do with knowledge of the subjects, then we won’t know how much knowledge girls really have. And since the SAT doesn’t accurately reflect what boys and girls have learned about language and math, then there is no solid basis in theories about female and male intelligence based on the SAT so-called “intelligence test.”


Gender Bias in College Admissions Tests. (2009). Retrieved from