Cai, Xiqian, 陆毅, Jessica Pan, and Songfa Zhong. "Gender gap under pressure: Evidence from China's national college entrance examination." Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming.
This paper examines how female and male examination performance are differentially affected by the degree of competitive pressure faced. Our setting is China's National College Entrance Exam (Gaokao) which is widely regarded as the world's most competitive exam. We show that compared to male students, females underperform on the high-stakes Gaokao, relative to their performance on the low-stakes mock examination held two months earlier. The gender gap in exam scores is 0.15 standard deviations larger in the Gaokao relative to the mock exam. This translates to a 15% decline in the probability that females qualify for a Tier 1 university when moving from a low-stakes setting to a high-stakes setting. To elaborate on the possible mechanisms, we conduct two further analyses. First, for subgroups of students where the stakes matter more, the performance gaps are larger, and we observe a decline in performance among females, coupled with an improvement in performance among males. Second, we find that, compared to males, females perform worse on the afternoon exam in response to negative performance shocks on the morning exam.