Sugar and spice and all things nice. That's why girls do better in exams

5th June 2009 at 01:00
Israeli study finds boys fare worse because their social skills are not so advanced

Girls outperform boys in exams because they are nicer, according to new research.

Girls have historically outperformed boys in literacy exams. And, in recent years, boys and girls have scored almost identical grades in maths and science, traditionally subjects where boys shone in the classroom.

Academics from the University of Haifa, in Israel, studied 52 pupils aged between 14 and 15 to observe whether their personalities or their study habits were responsible for girls' consistent achievement. They examined pupils' grades across the academic year. In addition, they observed their learning habits, and monitored a range of personality traits, such as agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.

They found that there was relatively little difference between their learning habits. However, the results revealed a significant correlation between girls' agreeableness and their achievement.

This, the researchers concluded, suggests that gaps in achievement stem from personality differences rather than from any difference in study skills.

"Agreeableness relates to interpersonal relations," they said. "Students scoring higher on agreeableness would thrive better and achieve higher than others in co-operative settings, which may explain girls' gain over boys. It is possible that highly agreeable students, who function better in the school social environment, may also influence teachers' perceptions of them, resulting accordingly in higher achievement."

Trefor Lloyd, director of the educational charity Working With Men, agrees that this is a credible explanation. "Girls are much, much better at negotiating with teachers," he said. "They will ask more questions: they start from a position of not knowing enough.

"Boys don't like to be seen as not knowing something, and only ask questions reluctantly. And girls are more likely to do as they're told, where boys are more likely to be confrontational.

"But there are other factors. It's also about learning styles, development, and boys leaving things to the last minute."

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