A Simple Change To Standardized Tests—That Could Make A Big Difference

I want to share with you the “Brilliant Quote” from my most recent newsletter. It’s taken from Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, the very useful and readable book by University of Chicago cognitive scientist Sian Beilock.

I chose it for inclusion in my newsletter because it represents my favorite kind of finding from the science of learning: it’s about how a simple change can make a big difference in how we learn and perform. Have a read:

“Let’s take a moment to reflect on what happens when students arrive to take a standardized test such as the SAT. One of the first things test takers do is to check off boxes to indicate their race, their sex, GPA in school, and even their families’ income levels. Providing this information can undermine the students’ self-confidence, especially if they feel pigeonholed into a group that is stereotyped as academically challenged or unsuccessful.

The consequences of filling out this information for test performance can be dire. Indeed, psychologists Kelly Danaher and Christian Crandall at the University of Kansas found that simply moving the standard background questions about sexual identity from the beginning to the end of the test led to significantly higher performance by women on the AP calculus test.

Extrapolating from these AP calculus test findings alone, the researchers estimate that, each year, an additional 4,700 female students would receive AP credit that could advance their standing in college math classes if questions about test takers’ sex always came at the end.”

If you’d like to be among the first to read the Brilliant Quote each week, sign up for my newsletter in the box to the left.—Annie

3 Responses to “A Simple Change To Standardized Tests—That Could Make A Big Difference”

  1. Becky Conekin says:

    This seems very important and interesting. Not to be a pedant, but I assume the author means ‘gender’ or even ‘sex’ identity, not ‘sexual’, as I had to re-read the beginning of the quote to make sure that the SAT doesn’t ask what the test takers ‘sexual identity’ is….Perhaps you might tell the author this…or perhaps the book has been out sometime, and she’s tired of hearing this.

  2. Bruce says:

    Perhaps an even better question to ask is:
    What if a test began with questions about future hopes and dreams
    Example, “if you score much higher on this test than planned, how would your future plans benefit?”

  3. Bob says:

    J. M. Wicherts has unpublished data indicating that stereotype threat is largely an artefact of publication-bias.

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