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I am describing my students and want to say they do not know much about the courses that they passed last year.

How can I say it in English?

E.g. My students are weak in science, so I can't teach them advanced materials.

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    Please elaborate on the context. – user140086 Oct 19 '15 at 11:19
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    "They do not know much about the courses that they passed last year." – Hot Licks Oct 19 '15 at 11:50
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To emphasize, perhaps more diplomatically, the idea that the fault lies with prior courses (i.e., Teachers and/or the Students' [retention] abilities), I’d try to work in the notion of “prerequisite knowledge and skills” and the lack thereof.

For example:
"The Students lack the prerequisite knowledge and skills (=the basic knowledge required=the fundamentals) to advance to and succeed at the next level (of the study of [whatever subject]."

Prerequisite [...] that must exist or happen before something else can happen or be done [Example] prerequisite knowledge

(from Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)

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There could be many ways to express this idea, depending on the context and style.

Consider some formal examples suitable for a report, perhaps:

"The students' proficiency in X is limited."

"The students' knowledge of X is inadequate to proceed to advanced topics."

Or you can simply (and informally) say, "They don't know enough of the last year's course material."

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You can try these words.

  1. Nonconservant.
  2. Philistine.
  3. Illiterati.

These can be used to describe the people who are not well-informed in particular subject.

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Consider,

My students have some [considerable] knowledge gaps (or shortcomings) in science, so I can't teach them advanced materials.

gap: an incomplete or deficient area: a gap in her knowledge M-W

shortcoming: a failing or deficiency; "that interpretation is an unfortunate defect of our lack of information" Princeton University, Farlex Inc.

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