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Biglan (1973) divides academic disciplines into hard and soft, with subcategories of pure and applied, and life and non-life. We have conducted a study spanning these sub-categories in the ‘hard’ discipline of science, focused on looking for common factors that impede student learning. A survey of second year undergraduate courses in Thermal Physics, Quality of Medical Practice and Molecular Biology was conducted. A common theme identified was the students’ struggle with numeracy skills. Our survey results suggest this has less to do with a real weakness in mathematics, the students in these courses generally have strong mathematical backgrounds, and is more related to two factors – lack of relevance, which reduces their willingness to engage with the challenging aspects of the mathematics, and difficulties in transforming their ‘pure’ mathematical training into a form that allows them to use it effectively in their chosen courses.