skip to main content skip to footer

Sex Differences in Test Performance: A Survey of the Literature

Wilder, Gita Z.; Powell, Kristin
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-89-04, CBR-89-03
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
College Board, Literature Reviews, Scores, Sex Differences, Test Bias


This review is organized into three major sections. The first examines the recent data, especially data collected since 1980, evidence (or lack thereof) for differential performance by males and females on various tests. The second section examines a variety of possible correlates and hypothesized causes of the reported differences. These include demographic and social trends, individual differences that span the range from biological to psychosocial, and characteristics of the tests themselves. The final section identifies several areas for continuing or future research. The data came from four major sources: 1) undergraduate, graduate and professional school admission tests; 2) data from validity studies; 3) tests using nationally representative samples; and 4) studies of performance at the item level. The four sources provided different kinds of information, each with its own advantages and limitations. Findings include: 1) on all undergraduate admissions tests of quantitative and math ability and achievement men outperformed women, often significantly, and the differences appear to be greater on tests of ability rather than achievement; 2) in recent year, men have also outscored women on the SAT-Verbal sections by a small margin; 3) on tests in specific fields, like the AP or GRE Subject Tests, men also do better in traditionally "male " subjects like science; 4) validity studies, comparing admission test scores (SAT, GRE) with first year GPA generally show women's test scores to be underpredictivie and men's to be overpredictive. These test scores are also more predictive of performance for the women; and 5) the differences in quantitative ability are larger and better supported by the literature than the differences in verbal ability. Appendices include: 1) References Arranged by Format and Topic; and 2) Selected Models of Influences on Gender-Based Differences. (JGL) (57pp.)

Read More