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  5. Concept inventories in physics: from development to impact

Concept inventories in physics: from development to impact

Project leader(s): 
Holly Hedgeland

The project aims to support the development and dissemination of the concept inventories currently under development in the School of Physical Sciences. It addresses the need for fully validated instruments to measure conceptual understanding and learning gain in physics undergraduates and seeks to develop the application of new technologies that will promote fair assessment in these inventories.

Concept inventories have been popular tools in physics instruction since the introduction of the Force Concept Inventory (Hestenes, 1992). However the original multiple choice format of this instrument has been the subject of considerable debate around both possible bias and whether students’ misconceptions can be accurately inferred from their choice of distractors.

Through previous collaborative work with two other UK HEIs and a postgraduate studentship, we have developed a free-text response version of the Force Concept Inventory, the Alternative Mechanics Survey (AMS), which has undergone considerable testing for validity and reliability. Additionally, we have an early stage version of a General Relatively Concept Inventory (GRCI), also in free-text response format, that seeks to bring this approach to the more mathematically intensive topics traditionally avoided by these instruments.

With a response set for the AMS numbering in three figures already collected, in this project, we seek to evaluate whether there is any evidence of a gender gap associated with this new question type, and look to how we can make the validated inventory widely accessible by the physics education community.    

Our research questions are:

  1. Is there a gender gap when the questions are free text?
  2. Can we adapt the validated AMS for wide dissemination?

We aim to promote the inventories through peer reviewed publications detailing their development and testing for validity and reliability, and also by implementing appropriate technological solutions compatible with a Moodle environment to make the final validated forms readily available to the wider physics education community.


Hestenes, D., Wells, M., & Swackhamer, G. (1992). Force Concept Inventory. The Physics Teacher, 30, 141–158

Hedgeland, H. (2019) Project poster (PDF)