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Examining the Impact of Class Difficulty on Transition and Success in College

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This study examines the impact of class difficulty on first-semester GPA, controlling for a number of precollege factors and the course load taken in the first semester. Although a large body of literature exists on the determinants of academic performance, class difficulty is often neglected in the literature. For this study, we created a new measure of class difficulty and included that in a regression model to explain student GPA across semesters as the student matriculates through college. We found that students who take more difficult classes tend to have lower GPAs in the first semester but higher GPAs during their second year of study. It is our contention that more difficult first-semester classes better prepare students for subsequently harder classes in their progress toward graduation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition is a semiannual refereed journal providing current research on the first college year and other significant student transitions. The primary purpose of the Journal is to disseminate empirical research findings on student transition issues that inform practice in all sectors of postsecondary education, such as explorations into the academic, personal, and social experiences (including outcomes related to success, learning, and development) of students at a range of transition points throughout the college years; transition issues unique to specific populations (e.g., non-traditional, traditional, historically underrepresented students, transfer students, commuters, part-time students); and explorations of faculty development, curriculum, and pedagogical innovations connected to college transitions.
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