Insights and Teacher Perceptions Regarding Students’ Conceptions as They Enter Tertiary Chemistry Studies: a Comparative Study

  • Gwendolyn A. LawrieEmail author
  • Madeleine Schultz
  • Anthony H. Wright


The successful transition from high school to tertiary chemistry studies relies on a student’s ability to transfer prior understanding since many topics are extended during first year general chemistry. It was therefore of interest to investigate the perspectives of high school and tertiary teachers regarding which topics and concepts they perceived to be the most important and their views of student preparation. This study was paralleled by the refinement of a diagnostic concept instrument to explore chemistry preconceptions held by leaving high school students and incoming first year students across two institutions. This instrument has been shown to be valid, reliable, and consistent and has provided formative feedback to faculty and students in regard to alternate conceptions over several years. A mismatch was found between the perceptions of high school teachers regarding their students’ preparation and commencing students’ achievement on the instrument. The most important topic to high school teachers was how electron configuration relates to structure whereas for tertiary teaching faculty, it was the conservation of matter. The position and response of equilibrium to change was of lowest importance to both groups. Student misconceptions, attributable to different learning impediments, are considered and a series of recommendations is proposed to support chemistry teachers who practice each side of the secondary-tertiary transition.


Chemistry concepts Diagnostic instrument Concept transfer Alternate conceptions Secondary-tertiary transition 



The support of the first year chemistry coordinators: Mary Garson, Shih-Chun Lo, Ross McGeary, and Craig Williams (The University of Queensland) and John McMurtrie, Wayde Martens, and Eric Waclawik (Queensland University of Technology) in the delivery of the diagnostic instruments to their students across multiple years is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank the Queensland high school teachers and students for their participation. Chantal Bailey and William Macaskill assisted in data collection and statistical analysis. This work was supported financially through a UQ New Staff Startup Grant.

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Copyright information

© Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemistry & Molecular BiosciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Science and Engineering FacultyQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of EducationThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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