Date of Graduation

Summer 2016


Master of Science in Chemistry



Committee Chair

Gautam Bhattacharyya


chemistry education, general chemistry, science education, secondary chemistry education, chemophobia

Subject Categories



Eliciting students' beliefs regarding the difficulty of subject matter is important since self-efficacy often determines study habits. The goal of this research was to investigate students' perceptions about the relative difficulty of topics taught in tertiary-level introductory chemistry courses. As a proof of concept, I created a survey composed of topics adapted from the South Carolina high school chemistry standards. This survey was piloted at Clemson University, where general chemistry students at the end of their first-semester were asked to rank the topics by perceived level of difficulty. Based on the pilot data analysis the survey was revised, adapted and, subsequently, administered at semester's end to students enrolled in introductory-level chemistry courses at Missouri State University: CHM 107, 116, 160, and 170. Additionally, 168 students completed weekly journal entries in which they reflected on the difficulty of topics as they learned them. Significant results are that students' beliefs of the relative difficulty of topics transcended academic institutions, primary audience of the course, instructor, textbook, and student demographics including major and GPA. Furthermore, students ranked mathematical topics as the easiest even though prior research indicates that inadequate math skills often cause poor performance in general chemistry courses. This dissonance between students' beliefs and performance illustrates the importance of taking self-efficacy into consideration when creating novel curriculum interventions.


© Michelle Denyse Hilda Herridge

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