Active/Collaborative Learning Student Teams Integrating Technology Effectively Women and Minorities Assessment and Evaluation EC2000 Emerging Technology Foundation Coalition Curricula Concept Inventories
Concept Inventories


Introduction Motivated by the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) created by Halloun and Hestenes[14] and its impact on physics education, the Foundation Coalition (FC) is working to create concept inventories for specific engineering disciplines. The FCI was designed to measure conceptual, not computational, understanding of Newtonian mechanics. The questions focus on intuitive comprehension independent of knowledge of the terminology or numerical modeling. Following the lead of the FCI, faculty members are creating concept inventories for other disciplines.

The FC offers thirteen easy-to-use concept inventories that are intended for pre-and post-testing to encourage evaluation of different teaching approaches. To prevent student access, instruments are not posted on the Web site but may be readily obtained by contacting the developer.


Dynamics Chemistry
Computer Engineering Fluid Mechanics Materials
Electromagnetics Heat Transfer  
Electronics Strength of Materials  

Signals and Systems

Circuits (CCI) The CCI is in two parts. Part I measures students' conceptual understanding of the basic properties of elecricity, circuit components, and linear time-invariant networks (DC and AC). Part II addresses frequency domain concepts, coupled inductors, convoultion, impulse response, and transform techniques. Contact
Computer Engineering (CECI) Parallel CECIs have been developed. One is a 26-question inventory to measure mastery of fundamental digital logic (DL) concepts to which sophomore students are introduced. Students must master DL concepts to perform well in the follow-on courses. The DL instrument will be released this summer. The other CECI measures change in the conceptual understanding of computer engineering by students who have completed sophomore-level courses; it is being refined. Contact .
Electromagnetics (EMCI) The EMCI is tool designed to measure students' understanding of fundamental concepts in electromagnetics. Although primarily intended for junior-level electromagnetics courses in electrical engineering departments, the EMCI can also be used in a variety of undergraduate and graduate electromagnetics-related courses in engineering and physics departments. EMCI Version 1.0 is composed of three instruments: (i) Fields (electro and magnetostatic, and time-varying EM fields), (ii) Waves (uniform plane waves, transmission lines, waveguides, and antennas), and(iii) Fields and Waves (combination of the first two instruments). Contact .
Electronics (ECI) The 35-question ECI assesses student understanding of introductory electronics concepts that are covered in the first of a two-course sequence. The exam includes a small subset of basic circuit analysis questions so that instructors can differentiate between misconceptions in circuit analysis and misconceptions in electronics. The developers hope the ECI will become standardized across the U.S. as an ABET instrument. The official version is now in circulation. For more information or to obtain the exam for use in your classes, contact .

Signals and Systems (SSCI)[4] The SSCI is a 25-question multiple-choice exam that assesses students’ understanding of fundamental concepts in linear signals and systems, with separate versions for continuous-time and discrete-time material. To date, 28 instructors at 12 institutions have administered versions 1 and 2 to over 1000 students. It has been used for internal and ABET assessments. Contact .

Waves (WCI)[6, 7] The WCI has 20 questions with 34 possible answers. Areas probed include visualization of waves, mathematical depiction of waves, and wave definitions. The WCI allows more than one correct choice for most of the questions. Choosing more than one answer correlates with increasing understanding of the material. The WCI is intended for junior-level electronics of materials courses. Contact .
Dynamics (DCI) The DCI covers rigid-body mechanics and is intended for use in the first course in dynamics commonly found in many engineering curricula. Development (beta) versions of the DCI were tested in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. The first official release (version 1.0) will be available for use in the spring of 2005. Contact .
Fluid Mechanics (FMCI) The FMCI establishes a common base of fluids concepts and provides instruments that evaluate the degree to which students have mastered the concepts. A possible outcome of the inventory could be modification of the curriculum and courses. Contact
Heat Transfer (HTCI) The HTCI assesses student understanding of concepts, identifies misunderstandings, provides feedback to instructors, and evaluates student gains in a heat transfer course. It is one piece of a main package to help instructors make learning of heat transfer more effective. Its development involves both students and instructors. The HTCI is being evaluated for coverage; concepts include fundamental ideas, conduction, convection, and radiation. Contact .
Strength of Materials (SMCI)[9] The SMCI measures mastery of fundamental strength of materials concepts such as stress, strain, and buckling that are introduced to sophomore students. Many students will not master the more abstract concepts until they complete follow-on courses. The first draft of the SMCI became available in 2002; a revised version is under development. Contact .
Thermodynamics (TCI)[8] The TCI is intended for use in introductory thermodynamics courses. Since thermodynamics is often taught as a two-course sequence, two instruments ("beginning" and "intermediate") are eventually desirable. This TCI focuses on the first course. The distribution of subject matter over the questions does not reflect time spent in class. The question distribution reflects expectations for students upon course enrollment. Contact .
Chemistry (ChCI) Faculty members selected thermochemistry, bonding, intermolecular forces, equilibrium, acids and bases, and electrochemistry as topics. The 20 questions are conceptual, not mathematical or algorithmic, and can be ansered in a short time. Given at the beginning and end of a semester, the third version of the ChCI was used in the fall 2003 and then revised. Contact .
Materials (MCI) The MCI measures misconceptions about materials structure, processing, and properties. It is intended for introductory materials engineering courses. MCI results suggest that utilizing more active-learning methods in introductory materials engineering courses may increase conceptual knowledge gains. Contact .

References for Further Information

  1. Hestenes, D., Wells, M., and Swackhamer, G. (1992). "Force Concept Inventory,"The Physics Teacher, 30 (3), 141151.
  2. Hestenes, D., and Halloun, I. (1995). "Interpreting the Force Concept Inventory,"The Physics Teacher, 33 (8).
  3. Halloun, I., and Hestenes, D. (1985). "The initial knowledge state of college physics students," American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 10431055.
  4. Halloun, I., and Hestenes, D. (1985). "Common sense concepts about motion," American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 10561065.
  5. Evans, D.L., and Hestenes, D.L., "The Concept of the Concept Inventory Assessment Instrument," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, Nevada, 1013 October 2001.
  6. Roedel, R.J., El-Ghazaly, S., Rhoads, T.R., and El-Sharawy, E., "The Wave Concepts InventoryAn Assessment Tool for Courses in Electromagnetic Engineering," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, November 1998, Tempe, AZ.
  7. Rhoads, T.R., Roedel, R.J., "The Wave Concept InventoryA Cognitive Instrument Based on Bloom's Taxonomy," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1013 November 1999.
  8. Midkiff, K.C., Litzinger, T.A., and Evans, D.L., "Development of Engineering Thermodynamics Concept Inventory Instruments," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, Nevada, 1013 October 2001.
    One-page FIE2001 working paper:
    FIE 20001 presentation:
  9. Richardson, J., and Morgan, J., "Development of an Engineering Strength of Material Concept Inventory Assessment Instrument," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, Nevada, 1013 October 2001.
    One-page FIE2001 working paper:
    FIE 20001 presentation:
  10. Wage, K.E., and Buck, J.R., "Development of the Signals and Systems Concept Inventory (SSCI) Assessment Instrument," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, Nevada, 1013 October 2001.
    One-page FIE2001 working paper:
    FIE 20001 presentation:

Resources beyond the Foundation Coalition

Determining and Interpreting Resistive Electric Circuit Concepts Test (DIRECT)

Engelhardt, P.V., and Beichner, R.J. (2004) Students' understanding of direct current resistive electrical circuits. American Journal of Physics. 72:1, 98-115
Abstract: Both high school and university students' reasoning regarding direct current resistive electric circuits often differ from the accepted explanations. At present, there are no standard diagnostic tests on electric circuits. Two versions of a diagnostic instrument were developed, each consisting of 29 questions. The information provided by this test can provide instructors with a way of evaluating the progress and conceptual difficulties of their students. The analysis indicates that students, especially females, tend to hold multiple misconceptions, even after instruction. During interviews, the idea that the battery is a constant source of current was used most often in answering the questions. Students tended to focus on the current in solving problems and to confuse terms, often assigning the properties of current to voltage and/or resistance.

Conceptual Survey on Electricity (CSE), Conceptual Survey on Magnetism (CSM), and Conceptual Survey on Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM)

They deal with E & M and can be used in pre-instruction and post-instruction modes for the algebra/trigonometry-based and calculus-based introductory, college-level physics courses. They have undergone extensive revision and have been reviewed by many college/university physics educators. Data from over 5000 students from over 30 different institutions (two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities including one in Europe) have been collected. The data (1999) for the CSEM show that 31% correct for calculus-based students and 25% for algebra/trigonometry-based students on the pre-test. Post-instruction results only rise to 47% for calculus-based students and 44% correct for algebra/trigonometry-based students. Maloney, D., O'Kuma, T., Hieggelke, C., and Van Heuvelen, A. (2001) Surveying students' conceptual knowledge of electricity and magnetism," Am. J. Phys. 69 (7), Supplement 1, S12-S23

Test of Understanding of Kinematic Graphs (TUG-K)

Beichner, R.J. (1994) Testing student interpretation of kinematics graphs. Am. J. Phys. 62 (8), 750-755
Abstract: Recent work has uncovered a consistent set of student difficulties with graphs of position, velocity, and acceleration versus time. These include misinterpreting graphs as pictures, slope/height confusion, problems finding the slopes of lines not passing through the origin, and the inability to interpret the meaning of the area under various graph curves. For this particular study, data from 895 students at the high school and college level was collected and analyzed. The test used to collect the data is included at the end of the article and should prove useful for other researchers studying kinematics learning as well as instructors teaching the material. The process of developing and analyzing the test is fully documented and is suggested as a model for similar assessment projects.

Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE)

Thornton, R.K., and Sokoloff, D.R. (1998) "Assessing student learning of Newton's laws: The Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation," American Journal of Physics 66 (4), 228-351

Outcomes Assessment Instruments for Identifying Engineering Student Misconceptions in Thermal and Transport Sciences (Project Site)

This project focuses on creating an outcomes assessment instrument to reliably identify engineering student misconceptions in thermal and transport science courses (e.g. thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, mass transfer).

Statistics Concept Inventory (SCI)

The Statistics Concept Inventory is designed to be in similar format to the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). which has been successful in assessing student understanding of Newtons law and transforming teaching to improve understanding. SCI development began in Fall 2002, with a 32-item test. The scores and gains (from pre to post) are similar to those found on early testing of the FCI in classes which use the traditional lecture format. The SCI is divided into the categories Descriptive, Probability, Inferential, and Graphical based on the results of factor analysis. Each category has around 9 questions on the Summer 2004 version. Details on the sections are provided on the Topics List.

Allen, K., Stone, A., Rhoads, T. R., and Murphy, T. J. (2004). The Statistics Concepts Inventory: Developing a Valid and Reliable Instrument. Proceedings, ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition

Abstract: The Statistics Concepts Inventory (SCI) is currently under development at the University of Oklahoma. This paper documents the early stages of assessing the validity, reliability, and discriminatory power of a cognitive assessment instrument for statistics. The evolution of test items on the basis of validity, reliability, and discrimination is included. The instrument has been validated on the basis of content validity through the use of focus groups and faculty surveys. Concurrent validity is measured by correlating SCI scores with course grades. The SCI currently attains concurrent validity for Engineering Statistics courses, but fails to do so for Mathematics Statistics courses. Because the SCI is targeted at Engineering departments, this is a good starting point, but the researchers hope to improve the instrument so that it has applicability across disciplines. The test is shown to be reliable in terms of coefficient alpha for most populations. This paper also describes how specific questions have changed as a result of answer distribution analysis, reliability, discrimination, and focus group comments. Four questions are analyzed in detail: 1) one that was thrown out, 2) one that underwent major revisions, 3) one that required only minor changes, and 4) one that required no changes.

Statics Concept Inventory

The Statics Concept Inventory is intended to assess ability to use concepts in statics.

Steif, P. S. (2004). An Articulation of the Concepts and Skills which Underlie Engineering Statics. Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, accessed 23 June 2004

Abstract: Many instructional approaches are being developed with the goal of improving learning in Statics. This paper is aimed at providing guidance to such developments by articulating the conceptual basis for Statics. This paper recognizes the primary science prerequisite to Statics, freshman Newtonian mechanics, and addresses the essential ways in which Statics differs from freshman physics. A set of four concept clusters is proposed, together with a set of skills for implementing these concepts. Then, typical errors committed by students are presented. Examples of these errors are extracted from student solutions to Statics problems. These typical errors are then explained by appealing to the proposed concepts and skills. It is hoped that this paper can provide an impetus for mechanics educators to come to a community-wide agreement on a conceptual structure of this subject that can inform future instructional developments.

Steif, P. S. (2003). Comparison Between Performance On A Concept Inventory And Solving Of Multifaceted Problems. Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, accessed 23 June 2004

Abstract: Engineering science courses teach students to apply fundamental principles and methods to understand and quantify new, unfamiliar situations. Prompted by the finding that students often have widespread misconceptions regarding basic principles, researchers in physics education have developed concept inventories to assess conceptual understanding. In this paper, we put forth a methodology for exploring the relation between conceptual understanding, as judged by performance on a concept inventory, and efforts to solve to typical, multifaceted problems. Based on an early version of a concept inventory for Statics and a first attempt to employ this methodology, we find there indeed to be correlations between conceptual understanding and other general measures of performance on problem solving, and course success in general. However, we did not find a one-to-one correlation between an apparent understanding of specific concepts and the successful application of those concepts in problem solving.

Steif, P. S. (2004). Initial Data from a Statics Concept Inventory. Proceedings, ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, accessed 23 June 2005

Device Concept Inventory

The Device Concept Inventory (DCI) is a fifyt-question multiple choice/multiple answer web-based quiz that has been developed to test conceptual understanding of device theory.


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