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Assessments - Physics

Developing and validating reliable assessment instruments is a long process involving investigation of student difficulties, designing questions which can reliably uncover these difficulties, interviewing faculty about the appropriateness of the questions, pilot testing with students (both individual interviews and large scale in-class testing), performing statistical analysis, question refinement (addition/change/removal) and re-testing. It takes years of development effort to create and validate reliable assessment instruments and in order to ensure that these assessment instruments do not lose their reliability (for example, by answers showing up in online forums) it is important that:
1. students are not given copies following administration of the assessment tool and
2. questions are not incorporated into web-based question delivery systems without adequate security to prevent printing or unauthorized access by students.
For a comprehensive review of the impact of conceptual inventories on physics education see:
Many of the following assessments are now collected, maintained, and accessible via PhysPort.


(Note about the FCI and MBT made by the authors:
  • "the FCI was developed to assess the effectiveness of mechanics courses in meeting a MINIMAL PERFORMANCE STANDARD: to teach students to reliably discriminate between the applicability of scientific concepts and naive alternatives in common physical situations" (Hestenes 1997)
  • the Mechanics Baseline test is "the next step above the inventory in mechanics understanding ...(and).... emphasizes concepts that cannot be grasped without formal knowledge about mechanics."(Hestenes & Wells 1992)
  • Thus these tests do not pretend to measure advanced mechanics competence, but rather only a minimal facility which might be hoped for at the end of an introductory course.
Among desirable outcomes of the introductory course that the tests DO NOT MEASURE DIRECTLY are e.g., students':
  1. satisfaction with and interest in physics;
  2. understanding of the nature, methods, and limitations of science;
  3. understanding of the processes of scientific inquiry such as experimental design, control of variables, dimensional analysis, order-of-magnitude estimation, thought experiments, hypothetical reasoning, graphing, and error analysis;
  4. ability to articulate their knowledge and learning processes;
  5. ability to collaborate and work in groups;
  6. communication skills;
  7. ability to solve real-world problems;
  8. understanding of the history of science and the relationship of science to society and other disciplines;
  9. understanding of, or at least appreciation for, "modern" physics;
  10. ability to participate in authentic research.
D. Hestenes, Modeling Methodology for Physics Teachers, In E. Redish & J. Rigden (Eds.) The changing role of the physics department in modern universities, American Institute of Physics Part II. p. 935-957 (1997).
D. Hestenes and M. Wells, A Mechanics Baseline Test, The Physics Teacher 30: 159-165 (1992).
Electricity and Magnetism

Heat, Temperature and Thermodynamics

  • Introductory Thermal Concept Evaluation (ITCE)
    • 26 item test suitable for high-school and first year university students. ITCE assesses student understanding of thermodynamics concepts with questions phrased in natural language
  • The Heat and Temperature Conceptual Evaluation (HTCE)
    • 28 multiple choice (except for one question) survey of heat, temperature and heat flow
    • Physics Education Researchers at University of Maine have developed a template which can be used to analyze pre-post HTCE data, available here
  • Thermal and Transport Concept Inventory (TTCI)
    • Multiple-choice test of concepts related to heat transfer, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics appropriate for engineering students
  • Survey of Thermodynamic Processes and First and Second Laws (STPFASL)
    • 33 item multiple choice conceptual survey of thermodynamic processes and first and second laws of thermodynamics
    • Can be obtained by emailing the researcher who developed this test, Chandralekha Singh at
  • Thermodynamics Concept Inventory (TCI)
    • 30 item multiple choice test appropriate for students in an upper division Thermodynamics Course
Modern Physics
  • Quantum Physics Conceptual Survey (QPCS)
    • 25 item multiple choice test of fundamental ideas of quantum mechanics typically covered in a Modern Physics Course (photoelectric effect, waves and particles, de Broglie relation, double slit experiment, uncertainty)
  • Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS)
    • 12 item multiple choice assessment of quantum mechanics concepts typically covered in a Modern Physics course

Quantum Mechanics

  • Quantum Mechanics Survey (QMS)
    • 31 item multiple choice conceptual assessment of quantum mechanics concepts appropriate for a junior-level QM course
  • Quantum Mechanics Formalism and Postulates Survey (QMFPS)
    • 31 item multiple choice survey of students’ understanding of fundamental quantum mechanics concepts (infinite square well, harmonic oscillator, spin, position and momentum representation etc.) and facility with use of Dirac notation.
    • Can be obtained by emailing the researcher who developed this test, Chandralekha Singh at
  • Quantum Mechanics Visualization Instrument (QMVI)
    • 25 item multiple choice conceptual assessment of quantum mechanics concepts, primarily visualization of concepts, but also understanding of mathematical and verbal representations.
  • Quantum Mechanics Assessment Tool (QMAT)
    • Free response assessment of student learning difficulties in quantum mechanics


  • Wave Concept Inventory (WCI)
    • 20 multiple choice inventory of wave concepts, including but not limited to visualization of waves, mathematical description of waves and wave definitions. Can be obtained by emailing one of the researchers who developed this test, Dr. Ron Roedel at
  • Wave Diagnostic Test (WDT)
    • 7 item free response test of mechanical waves concepts (the link above takes you to the dissertation in which it is printed at the end)
Affect and Attitudes about Physics/Science
Affect and Attitudes about Laboratory courses
  • Science Laboratory Environment Inventory (SLEI)
    • Instrument which can be used to assess laboratory environment both from the perspective of the instructor and the students on five different dimensions: student cohesiveness, open-endedness (of laboratory activities), integration (with non-laboratory courses), rule clarity (extent to which lab activities are guided by formal rules) and material environment (laboratory equipment). The instrument is found in the appendix of the paper here
    • Article describing the development and use of the instrument available here 
  • Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey for Experimental Physics (E-CLASS)
    • ​Instrument which can be used to assess students' views about their strategies, habits of mind, and attitudes when doing experiments in lab classes. Find the survey here
    • The link for learning more about E-CLASS and accessing the survey is here
  • ​Laboratory course assessment survey (LCAS)
    • The Laboratory Course Assessment Survey (LCAS) measures students’ perceptions of three design features of lab courses: 1) collaboration, 2) discovery and relevance, and 3) iteration. Article describing the development and use of the instrument is available here
    • LCAS instrument is available here
Self-efficacy (belief in one's own ability to be successful) and motivation
  • General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE)
    • 10 item instrument assessing general self-efficacy (i.e., not specific to a particular domain)
  • Physics Motivation Questionnaire II (PMQ-II)
    • Survey of students’ motivation to learn physics
      • The link above will take you to the Science Motivation Questionnaire II, SMQ-II. To use this in physics, you can substitute the word “science” with “physics”
    • An article describing the validation of the SMQ-II is available here
  • Survey of Self-Efficacy in Science Courses - Physics (SOSESC-P)
    • Printed in Vashti Sawtelle’s dissertation available here
Attitudes regarding problem solving
If we missed some assessments developed by physics education researchers, please let us know at