Question Your World: Which Country’s Teenagers Have the Most Exaggerated View of Their Own Math Skills?

Posted: November 16, 2023

A team of researchers just dropped major truth bombs about American teens and their math game. A recently published study found US teens are the champions of hype when it comes to their own math skills. Let's dig in to sum science.

A recent study surveyed more than 40,000 15 year olds across nine English-speaking countries. For this research, each participant filled out a questionnaire. There were questions on how they rank their own math ability, their confidence and a math-vocabulary familiarity ranking. Participants in this study were asked to rank 16 math terms based on their familiarity with them, but there's a twist: not all of them were real!

Using this type of work, psychologists and social scientists are trying to better understand if over claiming abilities and being overconfident have harmful or good outcomes ... or both! For example, being overconfident and overpromising might get you a better job than someone who doesn't exhibit those traits, but once you are there, how do you perform?

So, 40,000-plus questionnaires later, what were the results?

Straight facts:

  • The red, white and blue took the crown, fam. American teens are straight-up kings and queens of exaggeration in math. No cap!
  • In general, boys over-claimed their math abilities significantly more than girls across all countries. 
  • Kids from affluent backgrounds were more likely to over-claim their mathematical abilities than those from disadvantaged groups.

Over-claiming students had significantly more confidence, self-efficacy and self-reported perseverance, meaning they believed in themselves to reach their goals and face challenges. In and of itself, that isn't necessarily bad.

This research offers some insight but we’ve still got a lot more knowledge to gather here. Scientists need to dig deeper to understand the many complex variables involved in the still relatively mysterious human brain. But for the time being, these researchers spilled the tea, and now we all know.