Students’ perceptions of their understanding in Chemistry 1 for Veterinary Science

Justin Read, Adrian George, Anthony Masters, Mike King


The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between students’ perceptions of their understanding of chemistry, and their performance as measured by the end of semester examinations. Prior to commencing the study, it was hypothesised that there should be some correlation between students’ perceived understanding and exam performance. Furthermore, experience suggested that high achieving students are generally better able to identify their strengths and weaknesses than are weaker students. It seemed logical, therefore, that the strength of any correlation should vary with exam performance. This study was designed to test this hypothesis, and this paper is the first refereed report of results from this on-going investigation.

A search of the literature found no previous studies of direct relevance to this work. However, the literature does offer some background. A number of studies have examined students’ perception of their exam performance after completing an exam (e.g., Beyer, Riesselmann and Warren 2002), and students’ overall expectations of academic performance has also been examined (e.g., de Campos, Grinberg, Garcia, Parise, da Silveira and Dumont 1998). Both are poor predictors of academic performance. Student self-marking has been shown to correlate well with the marks given by their professors for lower-order cognitive skills questions, but not for questions requiring high-order cognitive skills (Zoller, Fastow, Lubezsky and Tsaparlis 1999). Academic self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to complete academic tasks) has been shown to be positively correlated with academic performance (Chemers, Hu, and Garcia 2001; Vrugt, Langereis and Hoogstraten 1997). However, the Chemers et al. (2001) study examined generic skills and overall performance in a degree program, and was not linked to a domain. The Vrugt et al. (1997) study examined psychology freshmen, and whilst subject matter understanding was included in their model, they found that ‘self-efficacy and goals accounted for 5% of the variance in exam performance’ (p. 67), and thus their model has a poor predicting power for student achievement. House (2000, 2003) examined self-beliefs (measuring agreement/disagreement with statements such as ‘Science is boring’, ‘I enjoy learning Science’ and ‘Science is important to everyone’s life’) amongst 13-yearolds. These studies found a correlation between self-beliefs and science achievement test scores, but these beliefs were also found to be poor predictors of performance, explaining 6.29% of the variance in test scores in Hong Kong (House 2003, p. 201) and 6.8% in Ireland (House 2000, p. 110).

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