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For many years, men have outperformed women in the final degree examinations at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This not only contradicts the trends at most other British universities but is particularly baffling since British females perform on par or better than their male peers in secondary school examinations. The present article draws on a longitudinal study of Oxford University applicants (n=1929) to investigate competing explanations for this 'gender gap' in final examinations. The findings, based on detailed information of a subset of participants who were successful in gaining entrance to the University, found that their gender, their performance in first year exams and their expectation of obtaining a top grade (first class) degree were the strongest predictors of actual performance. Logistic regression models estimating the probability of obtaining a first showed that these two factors (first year exam marks and expectation of a first), both of which were higher in men, accounted for the gender gap. We argue that expectation of a first is an example of specific academic self-concept and that the higher level in men reflects different responses of the sexes to the particular academic environment of Oxford. The study also found that higher levels of selfesteem were associated with lower examination performance in both men and women. © 2013 Elsevier Inc.

Original publication




Journal article


Learning and Individual Differences

Publication Date





103 - 111