Mathematics preparation for university: entry, pathways and impact on performance in first year science and mathematics subjects

Jackie Nicholas, Leon Poladian, John Mack, Rachel Wilson

Abstract


Secondary school mathematics has always been considered central to preparation for university science degrees. Within the context of low levels of participation and attainment in both secondary school and tertiary mathematics and science, we examine the relationship between these two. Using university databases, we examine secondary school mathematics preparation in relation to university entry, pathways and performance for science students at a single, research-intensive university in Australia. We analyse the relationship between senior secondary school mathematics choice and attainment and overall attainment in Science degrees and performance in large cohort units in university mathematics, physics and chemistry. We also examine the impact of mathematics bridging courses for mathematically under-prepared students on attainment in the university mathematics unit. Our findings indicate that the higher levels of mathematics taken in senior secondary school are strong predictors of success in first year science and mathematics, but that our students who achieve in the top bands of each level of mathematics taken in senior secondary school can and often do outperform their peers who study a higher level of mathematics at school but achieve a lower band result. The impact of mathematics bridging courses on attainment in university mathematics is also discussed.

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