Gender Gaps at the Top: Exam Performance and Choking Under Pressure

Last registered on June 28, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

Gender Gaps at the Top: Exam Performance and Choking Under Pressure
Initial registration date
June 23, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
June 28, 2023, 4:31 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


Primary Investigator

Norwegian School of Economics

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Center for Applied Research (SNF), Norwegian School of Economics

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial is based on or builds upon one or more prior RCTs.
Being admitted to top-quality education is highly consequential for long-term outcomes. Admissions to top schools are determined by performing well in high-stakes exams in many countries around the world. Yet, a growing body of evidence shows that men outperform women in these important exams. To date, there is scarce evidence as to how and why gender differences in performance arise in high pressure, high-stakes situations. We design an experiment to explore female exam underperformance when the pressure goes up in a controlled environment. In the experiment, we give Prolific workers a series of two Raven's-type short tests containing easy, middle-difficulty and hard questions. After completing the baseline test (Test 1), we introduce treatments in Test 2 varying the level of pressure faced by participants in two ways: (1) We introduce a cutoff that determines whether participants receive a bonus payment, and (2) We increase the monetary payment per correct answer by a factor of fifteen. We measure whether the treatments induce underperformance relative to a control group, and whether there are gender differences in underperformance. We will collect the data for this experiment in June 2023.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Franco, Catalina and Ingvild Lindgren Skarpeid. 2023. "Gender Gaps at the Top: Exam Performance and Choking Under Pressure." AEA RCT Registry. June 28.
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Experimental Details


Participants are asked to complete two 3-minute tests, each with 7 questions of varying difficulty. The score in one of the tests will be randomly selected to determine experimental earnings on top of their show-up fee.

Test 1 is equal for all participants. In Test 2, participants are randomly assigned one of three treatment conditions. The treatments aim to increase the pressure that participants face in two ways: Relative to a pure control group, treated participants (treatment arm two and three) all face the introduction of a cutoff. To increase pressure even further, participants in the third treatment arm will face higher stakes through a higher monetary payment per correct answer in addition to the cutoff.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
1) Participant missing the cutoff, 2) Total score, 3) Number of omitted questions. All specifications are OLS, regressing the outcome variable on treatment dummies, a gender dummy and the interacted treatment and gender dummies. The alternative specifications run the same OLS regression as the main specification, including a set of background controls.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
The ”missed cutoff” variable equals 1 if the participant scored lower than 5 correct responses, and zero otherwise.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
We also collect a number of secondary measures that act as drivers for performance under pressure: e.g. self-reported stress, motivation, effort, worry/anxiety and time use.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The purpose of this project is to understand how individuals make decisions and perform in activities similar to examinations. The project aims to study different factors that influence decision-making and performance. Participants complete an online study that takes approximately 15 minutes. The survey includes exercises where they complete picture patterns and answer questions about the exercises and themselves. They are informed that they have the opportunity to earn extra money during the study, in addition to the show-up fee. They are asked to read the instructions carefully to understand how this compensation will be determined. If participants navigate away from the survey page, they will be excluded from the study without pay.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization in Qualtrics: Two randomization procedures for gender separately, where participants are randomly assigned to one of the three treatment conditions.
Randomization Unit
Since the gender dimension is of particular importance to us, randomization is done at the individual level, separately for males and females, ensuring that we have equal proportions of males and females in each treatment group.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
2322 participants, 1161 males and 1161 females, budget permitting (see below)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
774 in each of the three treatment conditions. The final number of participants will not depend on the detected effect size but on the budget.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Previous literature suggests that in examinations choices, small margins contribute to large effects. This implies that even small differences in our experiment may be meaningful. We set the lowest meaningful difference to be a treatment difference of .2 points in the diff-in-diff between gender and treatment. For 80% power we need 771 participants in each treatment group.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Approved under the framework agreement NHH-IRB 31/21
Analysis Plan

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