Performance on multiple-choice diagnostics and complementary exam problems

Richard N. Steinberg and Mel S. Sabella, Phys. Teach. 35, 150-155 (1997).

Multiple-choice diagnostic tests are becoming increasingly popular at many levels in the physics education community. They are regularly used to assess curriculum and to measure student understanding of basic concepts. Their multiple-choice format makes them easy to implement and analyze. This has led to the great benefit of an increased awareness of students’ conceptual difficulties.

Since its publication in this journal, the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) has become extremely popular with much attention given to student scores. The FCI therefore plays a major role in the development of curriculum and instructional strategies. Despite such importance, there are only a few studies published on how student performance on the FCI correlates with their understanding of the subject matter.

In order to help physics educators interpret the results of the FCI, as well as other multiple-choice diagnostics, it is clear that further research is needed. The Physics Education Research Group at the University of Maryland has written open-ended examination problems that correspond to several FCI questions. The FCI was administered during the last week of the semester and the exam problems were included the following week on final exams of first semester introductory calculus-based physics classes at the University of Maryland. In this article, we describe the correlation between student performance on the FCI and the corresponding exam problems.

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