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Math Education

Boys and Girls Together

One of the longest-standing truisms in the math biz is the assertion that boys are better than girls at math. There have been countless studies wherein a group of students are given given a large set of problems and must do as many as they can in a five (or ten or twenty) minute period. The boys as a group always do more problems than the girls do.

Ergo, boys are better than girls at math, so they say.

Recently, however, there have been some intriguing studies that imply the situation is much more complex than this.

For example, although boys do better than girls in timed tests, as described above, if the same boys and girls are given a second timed test, the difference disappears; the two sexes do equally well. More intriguing still, if the groups are given a third timed test, girls will generally do better than the boys. Interestingly, even if there is only a single round of problems, the girls do as well as the boys if the test is explicitly made to be not a competition. This could be achieved by something as simple as telling everyone that although they have five minutes in which to do as many problems as they can,  “this is not a race.”

Other studies have shown that although boys do more problems than girls in timed tests, they tend to get fewer of them right; the girls do fewer but better.

What is clear is that the difference between boys and girls math scores is not as simple as “boys are better than girls.” In fact, there is no intrinsic difference in strict math ability. Indeed, girl’s tendency to be slower but more accurate in timed tests are more consistent with math in the real world, where you are rarely timed, but getting good results is paramount.

All of this to say that if your daughter is having trouble with math, there is no reason to think that, with proper help (ahem), she can’t improve to whatever degree of excellence she wants.

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