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Competitive science studied

French research suggests girls can perform better in tests if there is no element of rivalry. Emma Seith reports

French research suggests girls can perform better in tests if there is no element of rivalry. Emma Seith reports

Removing the competitive element from science tests improves girls' performance without negatively affecting that of boys, new French research shows.

Girls' performance in science tests can be improved if the test is described as an opportunity for further learning rather than a competitive task, a study by academics from Clermont Universite in France has found. This method did not harm boys' performance, said the research, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology last week.

"Previous research shows that girls generally underperform when taking competitive science assessments, whereas the opposite is true for boys," Celine Darnon, one of the authors, said. "Our study demonstrates that both sexes can perform better when assessments are seen as a learning tool that will count towards their final grades but doesn't set them in competition with their classmates."

Researchers divided 192 secondary pupils (120 boys and 72 girls) into three groups for their science lesson. Each group was told one of the following statements: "At the end of the lesson you will take a test. This will be used to compare your abilities to other students"; "At the end of the lesson you will take a test. This will help you remember the lesson" or "At the end of the lesson you will be asked some questions. You will not be evaluated on this lesson."

The test included 10 questions on the lesson topic. Pupils were asked whether they thought they would be evaluated. If answering "yes", they were asked further questions about whether they felt the nature of the evaluation was designed to compare them to other pupils or to help them in the learning process.

The results showed girls and boys performed better when the assessment was perceived to be a learning tool rather than a method of comparing them with their classmates.

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