Students’ Mathematical Preparation: Differences in Staff and Student Perceptions

Andrew P. Wandel, Clare Robinson, Shahab Abdulla, Tim Dalby, Anita Frederiks, Linda Galligan

Abstract


Surveys of staff and first year students from the Science, Nursing, and Engineering and Built Environment disciplines are compared to ascertain the differences between their perceptions regarding the students’ mathematical preparation for their first semester of university. The surveys were conducted after students had received their results from the first semester. Unsurprisingly, the perceived capabilities in the basic topics were generally higher than the advanced topics. In general, staff were pessimistic about the students’ capabilities, while students were optimistic. The pessimism of the staff appears to be linked to the diversity of the student cohort, where students who studied the higher levels of mathematics in Year 12 tended to perceive that they were well prepared, while students who studied the lower levels of mathematics (Year 10 and Mathematics A) were likely to perceive that they were inadequately prepared. This raises the possibility that the course content has been targeted below the capabilities of the higher levels of Year 12 mathematics: a prospect which should be further investigated because of its important implications. An important intervention that significantly improved the capabilities of students was the completion of tertiary pre-entry courses: these students had similar confidence to those who completed intermediate level mathematics (Mathematics B). Mandatory completion of such pre-entry courses for under-qualified students could arrest the tendency to reduce the difficulty of the mathematics in first-year university.

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