Date of Graduation

Spring 2024


Master of Science in Chemistry


Chemistry and Biochemistry

Committee Chair

Gautam Bhattacharyya


Predicting the products of reactions is a fundamental skill for practicing inorganic chemists. However, the current knowledge of the strategies that students use to solve them is limited. Presumably, instructors of inorganic chemistry courses give complete-the-reaction assessment items hoping that students will use their knowledge of inorganic concepts to solve them; but it is conceivable that a successful student could use heuristics or domain general problem-solving methods. I proposed this study to determine which strategies were used by students when solving complete-the-reaction tasks in inorganic chemistry, and also to make qualitative connections between strategy and accuracy. This was done in order to determine if any problem-solving strategies result in greater task accuracy, and if so, how they promote the greater accuracy. I investigated the strategies of students enrolled in inorganic chemistry courses at a regional, four-year undergraduate institution in the Midwestern United States, using phenomenography as the theoretical framework. For the tasks, I gave participants one reactant and one product of a chemical reaction and asked them to provide the additional reactant(s) and product(s). I conducted semi-structured interviews lasting approximately 45 minutes using a think-aloud protocol. During data analysis, I used transcriptions and accuracy data to qualitatively compare using content analysis to categorize and interpret participant strategies. This study found that participants’ overall problem-solving strategy was made of initial steps, strategies, and verification strategies. The main strategy combined means-ends analysis and heuristics. Though each had low relevance to inorganic chemistry classroom concepts, the combination still often resulted in correct answers. While the other strategy components had relevance to inorganic topics, students often struggled with accurate recall of the concept or application to problem solving. The best performing participants engaged in a variety of strategies as needed, based on task category, and they were able to verify their answers before moving on. The results indicate that students are able to solve complete-the-reaction tasks relying on recognition or memorization, rather than class concepts.


inorganic, chemistry education, problem solving, phenomenography, prediction of products, chemical reaction analysis

Subject Categories

Other Chemistry


© Hannah P. Thompson

Open Access