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Have They Got It Yet? Assessing Student Understanding Of Difficult Concepts

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Knowing Our Students, Part 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.798.1 - 12.798.9



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Paper Authors

author page

Paul Santi Colorado School of Mines

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

Have They Got it Yet? Assessing Student Understanding of Difficult Concepts


Some of our most challenging teaching is aimed at identifying and correcting misconceptions. Misconceptions may be defined as facts, processes, or models that are flawed or miscategorized and of which the holder is unaware1. They are usually considered to be robust and resistant to change, because the misconceived understanding can often provide consistent and predictable explanations when tested2, 3. Furthermore, ideas may be miscategorized across ontological boundaries (believing, for instance, that electricity is a substance that can be stored or leaked out, rather than a process)2, 4.

Various teaching tools have been proposed to help students identify and correct their misconceptions, such concept tests3, 5, 6, 7, active learning exercises8, 9, group psychotherapy techniques1, small group discussions3, and tutoring sessions10. The effectiveness of these tools has not been clearly evaluated, in terms of addressing misconceptions. Such an assessment would be useful to identify appropriate tools for different problems, and to modify and improve tools. The purpose of this study is to report on the author’s experiences using two assessment approaches to demonstrate correction of misconceptions.

Requirements for Valid Assessment

Appropriate assessment must identify improved understanding on the part of the students, and not simply improved fact retention. It is widely accepted that true misconceptions are quite difficult to identify5, 7 and tricky to correct2, 4; it follows that it is probably also difficult to test for and verify that they have indeed been corrected.

Similar to tests created to identify misconceptions (see ref. 6, for example), assessments of their correction should challenge the student’s model in ways that isolate weaknesses in the model to explain various observations. This is frequently done by using answers derived from misconceived notions as distracters in multiple choice questions6. In discussion-type assessments, probing of the student’s response with deeper follow-up questions should also reveal weaknesses in their understanding.

The timing of assessment with respect to the instruction also plays a role. The assessment must take place soon enough after the instruction that students do not forget the concepts taught, yet any secondary or post-testing should isolate improvement resulting from intentional instruction aimed at repairing the misconception from improvement resulting from additional study time.

Based on these rough boundaries, the author developed and administered two different assessments to gauge the effectiveness of instruction aimed directly at specific misconceptions in

Santi, P. (2007, June), Have They Got It Yet? Assessing Student Understanding Of Difficult Concepts Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2092

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