Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Physiology 2016 (Dublin, Ireland) (2016) Proc Physiol Soc 37, PCA097

Poster Communications

Does gender bias exist in first year biology undergraduate module assessment?

J. Kacprzyk1, T. Wilkinson1, C. Ng1, G. Stewart1

1. Biology & Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


For many years it has been recognised that educational assessment strategies can be biased against one gender or another (1). For example, the use of negative marking in exams has been shown to have a more significant impact on female students compared to male students (2). However, the vast majority of these studies have been undertaken at primary or secondary school level. The aim of this current study was therefore to investigate whether any gender bias exists in the assessment of large-scale, first year undergraduate biology modules at University College Dublin. The study compared the academic performance of female and male students in two large first year modules during both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years (i.e. four modules in total). These modules were assessed through a combination of negatively-marked MCQ exams, Mastering Biology on-line tests and laboratory practical class worksheets. As expected from previous published studies, female students did not perform as well as male students in negatively marked MCQ exams (P<0.05, N=4, Mann-Whitney). Further analysis showed that this was due to a reduced number of correct answers and an increased number of passes. In contrast, females performed significantly better than males in Mastering Biology on-line tests and in laboratory practical class assessments (P<0.05, N=4, Mann-Whitney). However, combining all these different assessments together, there was no significant overall gender bias (NS, N=4, Mann-Whitney) in the four individual modules investigated. In conclusion, although no overall gender bias has been detected, these detailed analyses have confirmed significant gender differences in various methods of undergraduate assessment. We therefore strongly recommend that consideration of potential gender bias should be taken into account during decisions on designing module assessment strategies.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements