DP11716 Gender Differences in Academic Performance: The Role of Negative Marking in Multiple-Choice Exams

Author(s): Patricia Funk, Helena Perrone
Publication Date: December 2016
Programme Areas: Labour Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11716

We investigate whether penalizing wrong answers on multiple-choice tests ("negative marking") makes females relatively worse off compared to males (the comparison being no penalties for wrong answers). With a cohort of more than 500 undergraduate students at a major Spanish university, we conducted a field experiment in the Microeconomics course. We created a final exam, which was composed of two parts: one with penalties for wrong answers and one without. Students were randomly allocated to different exam permutations, which differed in the questions that carried penalties for wrong answers. We find that the penalties did not harm female students. Females performed better than males on both parts of the exam and did so to a greater extent on the part with penalties. Whereas risk aversion did not affect overall scores (despite affecting answering behavior), ability did. High-ability students performed relatively better with negative marking, and these were more likely to be women.