Maths is a strong predictor of stem attainment in first year university

Yoshitaka Nakakoji, Rachel Wilson


Mathematics is often heralded as the foundation to STEM education, yet we know relatively little about how student attainment in maths is related to attainment in science. Sadler and Tai’s (2007) influential US study showed the importance of learning mathematics in high-school for subsequent learning in university science, while research in New Zealand does not support this assertion (NZ Government, 2010). Furthermore there have been no studies of how maths may predict science attainment within university study. To address this issue we investigated the role of mathematics in STEM courses in one elite university in Australia. Secondary data analysis employed linear multiple regression to examine the relationship between first semester mathematics and second semester science attainments, while accounting for prior learning and demographic variables. These analyses confirmed that prior learning in the examined science was the best predictor of later science attainment; but that mathematics is also a strong predictor of science across biology, engineering, molecular bioscience and physics. In biology and molecular bioscience, maths is a significant predictor of attainment over and beyond the first semester attainment in these sciences. The implications for degree structure and preparation for study within STEM degrees are discussed.

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