Skills Hub

Try evaluating arguments

Look at evaluating arguments before starting this activity.


Read the passages below.

  1. What feedback would you give to the authors about the clarity of their arguments?
  2. How could their arguments be made clearer?
  3. How, if at all, could the author make it more appropriate as an academic piece of writing?

Frequently, researchers have sought to provide neuropsychological explanations for apparent gender differences in certain intellectual abilities, such as spatial skills and verbal skills. However, a number of investigations have shown that the social context of schooling is itself of considerable importance. Some studies of mathematics in children are a case in point. In one series of investigations involving thousands of children in Taiwan, Japan and the United States (Lummis and Stevenson, 1990), mothers tended to rate the achievement of young boys in mathematics as better than that of girls, even though the research did not in fact find gender differences in tests of children's general mathematical concepts and skills. Furthermore, mothers showed this pattern especially in the case of their kindergarten children - children who had yet to experience any formal mathematics instruction!

Banerjee, R. (2005). Gender identity and the development of gender roles, Ch. 5 pp173 In S. Ding & K. Littleon (Eds.), Children's personal and social development. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.


This is a good example where evidence has been given to back up a point of view being presented. The passage is written in an appropriate academic style. Inappropriate emotive language has not been used.

Girls and boys natural abilities in maths do not reflect the number from either sex going on to study maths at higher education level. I am currently studying maths at university and the number of women on my course is significantly lower than the number of men. I think this is a result of the outdated and outrageous attitude still prevalent in schools, which suggests that boys are more suited to scientific pursuits. Teachers and parents are not as encouraging of girls who wish to pursue science or maths further than A-level, and this means that fewer girls apply to university. This is certainly a waste of great talent.


This is not written in an academic style. Emotive language is used (e.g. outrageous). The writing is very personal and written in the first person (e.g. 'I think', 'I am'), which is inappropriate in this kind of academic writing. The writing needs to have more clear evidence to illustrate the author's points.

More research is needed. Whilst the individual's experience at university is relevant, it would be better if they provided evidence to support their own research (e.g. they could quote the percentage of girls versus boys entering university to study mathematics in a given year). They could also provide empirical evidence to support their argument.

During the last fifty years researchers have explored gender differences and their relation to academic achievement and several theories have been proposed to explain why girls do less well at maths than boys. Boaler (1997) suggests that girls underachievement in maths is due to the teaching methods in schools which favour boys. This theory is supported by Byrne who explains that underachievement in maths 'springs from adverse conditioning in the primary years' (Byrne, 1978). It is clear that if we want to increase the numbers of girls entering higher education to study maths we need to change the way they are taught in schools.

Byrne, E. M. (1978) Women and Education, Routledge, [online]. Available from,M1 [accessed 17 December 2008]

Boaler, J, (1997) Reclaiming School Mathematics: the girls fight back. Gender and Education, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 285 - 305 [online]. Available from [accessed 17 December 2008] This is an article in an electronic journal


In this case the evidence used to support the argument is outdated. Although Byrne's work may still be relevant, it is important to consider how teaching in schools has changed since 1978.

The writer should avoid using absolute terms - obviously not all underachievement in maths by girls is attributable to just the teaching methods (e.g. social / cultural norms, personal/or individual differences etc).

The conclusion assumes a correlation between academic achievement in maths and numbers entering higher education to study maths. This is not discussed or supported with evidence. The argument could be improved by including evidence showing that girls who do well at maths in school are likely to go on to study maths at higher education.

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