There has been much discussion on the impact of the new curricula for Grades 10–12 on the preparedness for tertiary studies of the 2009 cohort in subjects such as mathematics, chemistry and physics. Using the Chemical Competence Test that was developed and refined earlier, we have evaluated the proficiencies of incoming students to determine the shifts in preparedness for tertiary chemistry that occurred after students wrote the National Senior Certificate (NSC) in South Africa for the first time in 2008. Data
were collected in 2009 for first-time entering students at the Universities of Pretoria (UP) (N=828) and Cape Town(UCT) (N=315) and compared with that of students who were educated according to the former National Education curriculum (NATED 550) (2005:NUP+UCT=776). The raw score results showed a decline in proficiency in all topics, and significantly reduced skills development, with mastery of acids and bases showing the most serious decline. Rasch analysis of the data indicated that a 12 percentage
point shift in preparedness occurred in 2009 compared with 2005. The contribution to this shift of a mismatch between the new NSC rating scale and the one used previously was also investigated. The implications of the findings for selection and placement and teaching of first year chemistry courses are discussed.