Impact of basic arithmetic skills on success in first-semester general chemistry†
First-semester general chemistry is a known “gatekeeper” course due to its high failure rate. These higher education courses are taken by students who for the most part are regularly admitted freshmen, yet many struggle to succeed. In this investigation researchers from six higher-education institutions of varied sizes with student bodies of different ethnic composition teamed up to investigate the Math-Up Skills Test (MUST) as a potential tool to identify at-risk students in first-semester general chemistry (Chem I). A large population (N = 1073) was given the MUST at the beginning of the semester. The MUST had good internal consistency with the sample (Cronbach's alpha = 0.856). The MUST offers a quick 15 minute assessment of basic mathematics ability without a calculator. Instructors may find it easier than other documented predictors, which may take more time or involve obtaining student records (e.g., Math SAT). Results from the MUST support prior findings that mathematics skills correlate with course grades in chemistry. Poor arithmetic automaticity may be an underlying factor in lower performance by many students. With statistical modeling, the MUST, along with other demographic variables, was able to identify students who would go on to make a 69.5% or better in Chem I with a high percent of accuracy. The MUST, in tandem with other demographic variables, should be considered a potential tool for early identification of students at-risk for failing the class.