Mathematical preparedness for tertiary mathematics – a need for focused intervention in the first year?

  • J Du Preez
  • T Steyn
  • R Owen
Keywords: Mathematical preparedness, tertiary mathematics, calculus learning, calculus pedagogy, mathematics diagnostic survey, first-year engineering students


Ongoing action research at the University of Pretoria investigates first-year students' preparedness for a study in calculus. In 2005 first-year engineering students completed a mathematics diagnostic survey at the beginning and end of the year. In this article the results of the 2005 survey are compared with the students' final school marks in mathematics, as well as with their performance in the calculus courses of the first year at university. The data of three different groups of students are considered to determine whether focused intervention in the first year can contribute to improve students' competence in introductory calculus. All three groups received calculus instruction through traditional lectures and practical sessions. Two of the groups received additional support through tutor sessions. One of these groups also received developmental support in mathematical and non-mathematical skills. Although results indicate an overall improvement in students' pre-calculus skills at the end of the year,
they are not encouraging. Further statistical analysis of results indicates that students, whose entry level preparedness for mathematics was weak, and who had been exposed to additional developmental learning facilitation strategies, improved significantly compared with students
who were better prepared, but were not purposefully exposed to a focused intervention strategy.

Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 0258-2236