The introduction of an outcomes-based curriculum in South Africa together with a new syllabus for physical sciences for grades 10–12, prompted the development of an
instrument to monitor conceptual understanding in chemistry at the secondary-tertiary interface. This instrument was used to evaluate placement within different programmes at tertiary institutions as well as improvement in the conceptual understanding of chemistry during the first year of instruction. Comparison of preparedness revealed distinct profiles for proficiencies of mainstream and academic development cohorts, respectively, at the Universities of Cape Town, UCT, and Pretoria, UP, but not at the University of Limpopo, UL, which raises doubts about the placement of students at that institution. Unnecessary duplication of offerings for under-prepared students was found at UP. The academic development programmes at UCT and UP were effective in raising the level of conceptual understanding of students while students in the UL programme showed very little improvement.