Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Scott Lewis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey Raker, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Leahy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Ferron, Ph.D.


chemistry education research, cluster analysis, review materials, assessment


General chemistry is a survey course meant to form a foundation for students’ to build upon as they progress into chemistry sub-disciplines. The effectiveness of this foundation rests heavily on students’ abilities to retain or relearn concepts from the course. This study seeks to investigate the utility of a measure of general chemistry students’ knowledge retention across the time period of one semester. This approach was enacted in five different courses of either first or second semester general chemistry. The results showed that one-quarter to one-half of students exhibited a high rate of retention across the semester. A smaller group, approximately one-tenth to one-fifth of students exhibited little success on both the initial or repeated offering of the exam items. The remaining students had approximately equal representation of gainers, those who improve on their performance over the semester, and falterers, those who decline on their performance over the semester. The grouping by knowledge retention was related to academic performance in the course and it was found that a high level of retention was associated with stronger academic performance. Additionally, students who retained or gained exhibit higher average academic growth over the semester. Combined, the relation to academic performance serves to highlight the importance of knowledge retention in the educational setting. The proposed methodology can be readily incorporated within a naturalistic course setting facilitating adoption for instructors and researchers to further explore students’ knowledge retention. Another study was performed asking students and peer leaders what they thought the three most important topics in general chemistry was as well as asking two free response questions asking them what information they could provide when given the chemical formula of a compound. An analysis of the responses for the question related to the three big topics in general chemistry revealed four topics that were selected as the most important more than ten times: acids/bases, equilibrium, stoichiometry and thermodynamics. One of those topics, stoichiometry, is a General Chemistry I topic that seems to persist as being an important topic for students and peer leaders. The analysis also revealed that some topics, such as electrochemistry, are believe to be important because they are the most recent subject a student has learned, but when asked the same question months later, that topic is no longer believed to be important. The two free response questions showed that peer leaders have a better ability to connect chemical properties to chemical processes and orientations, as they were able to see that the ionic compound could dissociate in water and can be oriented as a lattice. The students who learned General Chemistry II using a traditional lecture were not able to retain the same number of correct statements as peer leaders or students who were taught General Chemistry II using peer-led team learning (PLTL).