Do Advanced Mathematics Skills Predict Success in Biology and Chemistry Degrees?


The mathematical preparedness of science undergraduates has been a subject of debate for some time. This paper investigates the relationship between school mathematics attainment and degree outcomes in biology and chemistry across England, a much larger scale of analysis than has hitherto been reported in the literature. A unique dataset which links the National Pupil Database for England (NPD) and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data is used to track the educational trajectories of a national cohort of 16-year olds through their school and degree programmes. Multilevel regression models indicate that students who completed advanced mathematics qualifications prior to their university study of biology and chemistry were no more likely to attain the best degree outcomes than those without advanced mathematics. The models do, however, suggest that success in advanced chemistry at school predicts outcomes in undergraduate biology and vice versa. There are important social background differences and the impact of the university attended is considerable. We discuss a range of possible explanations of these findings.

In International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, IJSME.