Problem-based learning (PBL) and Context-based learning (CBL) are often cited as having a positive impact on student learning. However, the discourse of these innovative teaching approaches often centres on gifted and/or experienced learners. The aim of this article is to report on the development of resources for a mixed ability cohort of foundation science students. Taking PBL as its inspiration, this article charts a move to a context-based approach and provides evidence of its impact on students with different experiences and understanding of chemistry, and different long-term aspirations in the field. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative research undertaken with students, this study suggests that the impact of CBL, is potentially greater for students with a limited experience of, or longer-term interest in, chemistry.