Why Students Drop Out of Chemistry 101

General chemistry is often called a gatekeeper course. This means it prevents many students from achieving their academic goals. How many? On average about 25% fail general chemistry according to Cooper and Peterson (2012). Others have found rates from 40-60%. That's a lot of students and you don't want to be one of them.

So why do many students end up failing or dropping chemistry? A few big reasons are:

  • Basic math skills. Students often don't have the fundamentals mastered. You've got to be able to convert between units and do basic math.
  • Problem solving skills. Memorization may have worked in high school but won't in college chemistry. You need a strategy and the ability to solve problems.
  • The concepts involved, especially in topics like stoichiometry, can be difficult and discouraging for students (Schmidt and Jignéus, 2003).

Based on my own personal experience I would also add:

  • Many students were able to get by memorizing in high school but Chemistry 101 goes too fast for memorization by itself to work.
  • Students don't study effectively or use techniques like reviewing material before class (this site is a good start for that) and working in study groups.
  • It's easy to procrastinate. When you get behind in chemistry it's tough to get caught up.
Why is Chemistry So Difficult?

Chemistry 101 is one of those college courses that send science, premed, and engineering students to the registrar to change majors. There are a few reasons college chemistry is difficult:

  1. It moves a lot faster than in high school chemistry and goes into greater depth. If you're not careful you'll quickly fall behind.
  2. You aren't going to be able to pass by memorization alone—you have to learn to solve problems.
  3. You have to be agile with basic math to succeed.
  4. Lab is often a separate grade and won't help like it did in high school.
  5. You need to have a strategy to solve problems and then struggle through before checking your answer.

If you want to be a chemist, biologist, or health care professional you're going to have to pass chemistry. More importantly, you'll need to understand the content to be successful and competent. Our site can help you master some of the basics you'll need to be successful in chemistry.

Stoichiometry Home  Back to Stoichiometry Home.


Cooper, C., & Pearson, P. (2012). A Genetically Optimized Predictive System for Success in General Chemistry Using a Diagnostic Algebra Test. Journal of Science Education and Technology. 21(1), 197-205.

Schmidt H.-J. and Jignéus C., (2003). Students' strategies in solving algorithmic stoichiometry problems, Chemistry Education: Research and Practice, 4(3), 305-317.