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Circuit Analysis Don'ts: Instilling Error Avoidance Skills While Teaching Proper Techniques

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Design in the ECE Curriculum

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.322.1 - 14.322.14



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Paper Authors

author page

L. Brent Jenkins Southern Polytechnic State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Circuit Analysis Don'ts: Instilling Error-Avoidance Skills While Teaching Proper Techniques


Circuit analysis is a discipline that is fraught with pitfalls for the beginning student. Common errors include misidentification of element configurations, unsuccessful efforts to create a simplified equivalent circuit, incorrect application of the source conversion principle, and omission or incorrect formulation of terms when writing a mesh or nodal equation to characterize circuit operation. This paper describes six circuit analysis errors that students frequently make, it suggests some proactive strategies that can be used to help students avoid these errors, and it describes the assessment techniques that have been used to evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies.


Implicit in this discussion is the belief that students are better prepared to solve problems (e.g., to analyze circuits) when warnings about common errors are interwoven into instruction about proper techniques. The essence of this approach is to tell students to "do it this way, but be careful not to do it that way." Warnings about common errors serve to bring proper techniques into clearer focus, which better defines the correct approach.

Difficulty Identifying Series and Parallel Elements in a Series-Parallel Circuit

One of the most fundamental circuit concepts that students struggle to master is the identification of series and/or parallel circuit elements in series-parallel networks. Students often treat components that are graphically parallel as if they are electrically parallel, and they frequently consider any two elements that share a single common junction to be in series. Some students also have the mindset that components that are not in series must be in parallel, and vice versa.

Proactive Strategy

Present precise, but concise definitions of series and parallel elements in terms of both connections and circuit parameters:

Series elements that are adjacent to one another exclusively share a common junction; all series elements share a common current.

Parallel elements span two common junctions; parallel elements share a common voltage.

Emphasize that the identification of series and/or parallel element configurations is a critical skill in circuit analysis. Reinforce study in this area by giving students extra practice with series-parallel resistor combination problems.

Jenkins, L. B. (2009, June), Circuit Analysis Don'ts: Instilling Error Avoidance Skills While Teaching Proper Techniques Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5705

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