Research in Science Education

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 613–632 | Cite as

Variations in University Students’ Scientific Reasoning Skills Across Majors, Years, and Types of Institutions

  • Lin Ding
  • Xin Wei
  • Xiufeng Liu


This study investigates three aspects—university major, year, and institution type—in relation to student scientific reasoning. Students from three majors (science, engineering, and education), four year levels (years 1 through 4), and two tiers of Chinese universities (tiers 1 and 2) participated in the study. A large-scale written assessment was conducted using the Lawson’s Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning (LCTSR). A series of analysis of variance showed that, although science and engineering majors exhibited higher reasoning skills than education majors and first-tier university attendees higher than second-tier university attendees, student reasoning skills measured by the LCTSR remained nearly constant across the four year levels of higher education, a recurring pattern for all majors and university tiers. Results suggest that current higher education in China has little influence on student scientific reasoning, regardless of what students learn, how long they receive higher education, and what type of institutions they attend. Implications of the study call our attention to the status quo and urge us to rethink meaningful ways that can help students increase key proficiencies needed in scientific practices, such as successful reasoning skills.


Scientific reasoning Content learning Lawson classroom test of scientific reasoning Discipline, quantity, and quality of learning 



The authors thank Katherine Mollohan for many useful discussions. This study is partially supported by the National Science Foundation (Award # 1252399; Principal Investigator: Ding, L.).

Supplementary material

11165_2015_9473_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.6 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 1.55 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Teaching and LearningThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Physics Editorial DepartmentPeople’s Education PressBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of Learning and InstructionState University of New YorkBuffaloUSA

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