More math helps young scientists

Apparently, high school math is the key to good grades in college science classes.

A survey of more than 8,000 students from 74 colleges found that each additional year of high school math correlated with a 1-to-2-point advantage, on a 100-point scale, in college chemistry, physics, and biology grades. For example, 2 additional years of high school math typically corresponded to a 3-point improvement in college biology—the difference between, say, a B+ and an A–.

Kids who took more high school classes in chemistry, physics, or biology gained a similar edge when they took a class within the same discipline at the college level. However, no significant benefit crossed a line between science disciplines. Only math seemed to boost grades in other subjects. The study appears in the July 27 Science.

Coauthor Philip Sadler of Harvard University says that students who take advanced high school math classes are better able to handle the more-basic math required in college science classes.

The results are “not surprising,” says James Milgram, a Stanford University mathematician and a member of a presidential panel advising the U.S. Department of Education. He points out that decadal surveys by the department have shown that as more students have taken advanced high school math classes, their chances of graduating from college have improved. “There is overwhelming evidence that the single most important factor that correlates with success in college is what is done in high school math,” says Milgram.


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