Conceptual Survey(s) on Electricity and Magnetism

We (Dave Maloney, Alan Van Heuvelen, Tom O'Kuma, and myself) have been involved developing a test(s) or tool(s) dealing with E & M that can be used in pre-instruction and post-instruction modes for the algebra/trigonometry-based and calculus-based introductory, college-level physics course. It does not include the area of circuits and it was not developed in connection with any curriculum development effort. We originally called them the Electric Concept Inventory (ECI) and the Magnetic Concept Inventory (MCI). It was our naive idea that they could be made similar to the FCI but we now better understand some of the important differences and difficulties that are involved.

At this time, we have available three instruments called the Conceptual Survey on Electricity (CSE), Conceptual Survey on Magnetism (CSM), and Conceptual Survey on Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM). The term "conceptual survey" is used rather than inventory because of the limitations imposed by the small number of questions that are allowed since it is designed to be used in a 50 minute period compared to the number of concepts (which are interconnected or integrated) that should be included multiple times (4-5) for a reasonable inventory. The CSE has 32 items, the CSM has 21 items, and the CSEM has 32 items that are a subset of the 53 items from CSE and CSM.

These instruments have undergone extensive revision (we are now on version H) and have been reviewed by many college/university physics teachers (100 or more is my estimate). Others have been involved and have made valuable contributions at the various stages of development. In this development process they have been given in an open-ended format and multiple choice format including explain your answer to a subset of the multiple-choice items. We have collected data from over 5000 students from over 30 different institutions (two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities including one in Europe). These tests have also been used at several institutions as part of an assessment program. We (and others) have reported on these tools at the last several summer meetings of AAPT and the ICUPE at the University of Maryland (proceeding have been published by AIP).

A paper on "Surveying students' conceptual knowledge of electricity and magnetism" was published this summer in the July issue of AJP/PERS (Volume 69, Issue S1, pp. S12-S23). It contains many details that are not available here. Our compiled data (1999) for the CSEM show that 31% of the questions are correct for calculus-based physics students and 25% for algebra/trigonometry-based physics students on the pre-test. Post-instruction results only rise to 47% for calculus-based physics students and 44% correct for algebra/trigonometry-based physics students.

If you are a physics teacher and want copies of these tools (CSEM, CSE and CSM) to use in your classes, please contact David Maloney at (include your complete educational institution's mailing address).

Curtis Hieggelke
Emeritus Physics Professor
Natural Science Department
Joliet Junior College
1215 Houbolt
Joliet, IL 60431-8938
or email