23 Mar 2018

Where have we been? ACS Exams may contain the answer!

Submitted by Jeffrey R. Raker, University of South Florida

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

- Walt Disney

How can we examine all of the doors that have been opened and all of the paths that inorganic chemistry has followed? One method would be to use ACS Exams which provide a historical record of undergraduate inorganic chemistry curricula. Each exam committee is tasked to write an examination that is reflective of  current curricula. For inorganic chemistry, this is a process that has occurred regularly since 1961 with the first instance of an inorganic chemistry-focused ACS examination. These exams were typically focused on senior-level inorganic chemistry. In 2016, the first foundation-level (sophomore/junior) inorganic chemistry ACS examination was released. This examination was developed to better address the needs of the broad array of inorganic chemistry courses that are taught.

Members of IONiC in collaboration with ACS Exams recently reviewed and analyzed the 860 items that have appeared on inorganic chemistry ACS Exams since 1961 (see JCE ASAP paper). Results support previous findings from work of the IONiC community about what topics are taught in our courses and extend the discussion about the variable nature of undergraduate inorganic chemistry courses:

While the diverse and flexible curriculum within inorganic chemistry might pose a challenge toward the development of a more standardized course model akin to general chemistry and organic chemistry courses, these criteria also offer opportunities in terms of fewer constraints and greater specialization in developing a more engaging curriculum. Finding a happy medium and sustaining the conversation about the role of inorganic chemistry among chemistry subdisciplines is essential to the systematic re-evaluation of the broader undergraduate chemistry curriculum. (page G in ASAP version)

The nature of inorganic chemistry education continues to fluctuate; we as a community continue to build on this strength by opening new doors through which we can explore new and exciting topics and instructional strategies in our courses!


I am an academic. I've lived my entire career in an academic atmosphere. I make regular contact with chemists across the country and world on a regular basis, but somehow I still wonder if what we're teaching in our inorganic courses, and the exams we are using, are the best methods for the preparation of chemists for careers in industry. While academic research is important, it is industrial activity that provides the underlying economic stimulus for all we do. How do our industrial colleagues at all levels--large and small companies--view the preparation students have received in inorganic chemistry. Are our students graduating from undergraduate chemistry programs ready to roll, or do they still need significant on-the-job training. If the latter, what do we in the academic world need to do to make our students as ready to roll as possible? More specifically, is the inorganic chemistry preparation adequate for the chemistry-related jobs students are receiving either with a B.A./B.S., M.S., or Ph.D.? The only reference to industrial concerns that I see in the ASAP paper indicates that "...the percentage of items pertaining to organometallic chemistry has increased 10-fold over the history of the exam. This is likely because of its importance in industrial chemistry and catalysis." I also note that, like me, everyone on the author team is affiliated with a college or university; there are no industrial co-authors.