Feb 8, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Oxford University took controversial measures to correct a gender gap in man and computer science exam results: Students were given 15 extra minutes to take their tests based on the assertion that “female candidates might be more likely to be adversely affected by time pressure.”

Here’s a closer look at this first-of-its-kind initiative, along with why some people are voicing concerns about the changes.

More Time, Better Scores?

According to a report from The Telegraph, math and computer science exams were extended from 90 to 105 minutes. (The length and difficulty level of the test remained the same.) Spurring the change? A history of exam results in which men were twice as likely as women to receive first-class scores, and the hope that adding extra time could “mitigate the score discrepancies beyond men and women. Furthermore, assert Oxford administrators, “The exam should be a demonstration of mathematical understanding and not a time trial.”

But Is it Sexist?

Many insiders welcomed the change, including Antonia Siu, Undergraduate Representative of Oxford Women in Computer Science. “I am uneasy about schemes to favor one gender over another. But I am happy when people see gaps between groups of people who should not reasonably have such gaps - such as between genders, races or class - and take that as a starting point to think about the kinds of people they unintentionally are leaving behind,” she told The Telegraph.

Not all are on board with the idea of adding time, however. Critics have expressed concerns that the move is sexist, and conforms to stereotypes about women being the “weaker sex,”  according to DailyMail.com. This can ultimately “make those stereotypes self-fulfilling, thanks to the adverse effect of anxiety and excessive self-consciousness on performance,” purports the British Psychological Society.

All of which begs the question: Was it successful? While the number of women receiving 2:1 degrees increased with more time, men still received more first class degrees in both subjects.



Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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