Changing the Order of Mathematics Test Items: Helping or Hindering Student Performance?

Document Type



Published by Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, volume 3 issue 1, 2013.


Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences

Publication Source

Journal of Humanistic Mathematics


This paper recounts an experiment by a mathematics professor who primarily teaches mathematics majors. The main question explored is whether the ordering of the questions makes a difference as to how students perform in a test. More specifically we focus here on the following research questions:\ (1) Does arranging a math test with easy-to-hard items versus hard-to-easy items impact student performance? and (2) If so, does item order impact male and female mathematics majors and non-majors in unique ways? We examine data collected over multiple semesters with several different classes. We find that for most of the mathematics students who were examined, the ordering of the questions on a test did not impact performance. However, female majors performed better on classroom exams when the test was arranged with the more difficult questions presented first. Readers who are interested in teaching mathematics, educational psychology, or gender issues in the classroom may find our results intriguing.

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