The High School to University Transition in Chemistry
Each year, some 1800 students enter one of our first year chemistry courses (CHM138 & 139 or 151) from high school. This continuing educational research project involves a mixture of surveys, focus groups, and interviews in an attempt to identify those factors contributing to a successful transition. From this, recommendations will be developed for students, high school teachers, and university instructors that will help ease the difficulties experienced by a significant number of new undergraduates every year.
The research for this project was completed in 2011, and is in the process of being written up. Preliminary findings can be found in the presentations posted on the Results & Reports page. A summary of the key findings will also be posted here once it is complete.
- High school grades are extremely unreliable predictors of success in post-secondary chemistry, a finding in keeping with many other studies in the physical sciences dating back to the 1920s (!)
- While 25% of students obtain a similar or higher grade in 1st-year chemistry than high school, 25% see a drop of 30 to 60 precentage points. This applies to students across the entire range of entering high school chemistry grades, not just those with low high school grades.
- Virtually all undergraduates report having to reassess their study skills during 1st-year, irrespective of how well they felt high school prepared them for university.
- Students who report that their high school classes emphasized memorization over understanding are more likely to obtain lower university grades, irrespective of their final high school course mark.
- Successful students emphasize the importance of time management, keeping up with lectures, readings, and course work, and the importance of effective study skills. It is particularly important for students to understand that what worked for them in high school will not necessarily work in university, due to the difference in pace, breadth of content, high-stakes testing, and higher level of conceptual understanding required.
Just for Teachers:
Find out more about this project, and access resources of use to both you and your students!
Student Study Tips:
As part of the 2007-8 survey, the research students developed this Student Study Tips guide, based on the survey results, educational literature, and their own experiences. Please feel free to download a copy for your own use!
Note to instructors: If you wish to make these study tips available to your own students, please use this link:
This link will remain stable; any updates will retain the same file name. Please let the principal researcher know if you share this resource with your students!
Those interested in this project may also find the following annotated reference list on chemical education of interest. (Last updated June 2009)