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A new and direct test of the ‘gender bias’ in multiple-choice questions


  • Stan du Plessis

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Sophia du Plessis

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)


Local and international research has identified a bias in favour of male students with MCQs. If correctly identified, this bias holds implications for reasonable assessment strategies in economics courses. A standard method used in the literature is to relate student performance to various features of the learning environment (such as the type of question) and to student-specific characteristics (such as past performance and lecture attendance). A more direct approach is possible: we set comparable questions (in three categories – graphs, quantitative and theory) in the written and MCQ sections of three tests in the introductory microeconomics course at the University of Stellenbosch. This allows a direct comparison between the performance of male and female students (overall and per question category), without the need to model overall student performance. The number of students in this course, almost 2000, offers a suitably large sample for studying this question. Our evidence does not confirm the strong claims about gender bias in the literature; indeed we find the opposite: a strong positive female gender effect, but for written questions only. We also find no evidence of higher risk-aversion by female students towards MCQ questions with negative marking.

Suggested Citation

  • Stan du Plessis & Sophia du Plessis, 2009. "A new and direct test of the ‘gender bias’ in multiple-choice questions," Working Papers 23/2009, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers96

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Servaas BERG & Onelle BURGER, 2003. "Education And Socio-Economic Differentials: A Study Of School Performance In The Western Cape," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 71(3), pages 496-522, September.
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    3. Daniel Cohen & Marcelo Soto, 2007. "Growth and human capital: good data, good results," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 51-76, March.
    4. Dorrit Posel & Daniela Casale, 2005. "Who replies in brackets and what are the implications for earnings estimates? An analysis of earnings data from South Africa," Working Papers 07, Economic Research Southern Africa.
    5. Hoenack, Stephen A., 1996. "The economics of education in developing countries: An assessment of the state of the art," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 327-338, October.
    6. Alejandra Mizala & Pilar Romaguera, 2004. "Teachers’ Salary Structure and Incentives in Chile," Documentos de Trabajo 193, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
    7. Emiliana Vegas & Ilana Umansky, 2005. "Improving Teaching and Learning through Effective Incentives : What Can We Learn from Education Reforms in Latin America?," World Bank Other Operational Studies 8694, The World Bank.
    8. Martin Gustafsson, 2007. "Using The Hierarchical Linear Model To Understand School Production In South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 75(1), pages 84-98, March.
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    More about this item


    Gender bias; Economics education;

    JEL classification:

    • A22 - General Economics and Teaching - - Economic Education and Teaching of Economics - - - Undergraduate

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