60 Questions Physics Students Should Know

Dear Fellow Physics Teachers,

Here are 60 questions on basic physics that you likely think your students can handle. But if you’re not focusing on the qualitative question sets in addition to problem sets in your algebra or calculus-based introductory course, be prepared for your students to do poorly with these questions about basic content we take for granted. The people working on Physics Education Research, PER, have made great strides validating the use of multiple-choice questions to test for conceptual understanding. The questions presented here have not been through the rigorous validation process of questions on tests like the Force Concept Inventory, FCI. Rather, they are some of my favorites, honed by use and reuse over my teaching career at City College of San Francisco. I see the questions as straightforward, without tricks or subtleties, treating only essential content which every student should be able to answer after completing an introductory physics course—particularly the course for engineers and scientists. The questions can also be given to students before the beginning of a course to let an instructor know of their students’ initial grasp of the material that lies ahead. If marked improvement is observed between the beginning and end of a course or good performance is demonstrated without the pre-test, then successful teaching efforts can be better seen as verified. If classes do poorly, then for one thing perhaps more attention should be paid to the qualitative questions in the end-of-chapter material of almost every physics textbook. From the 60 questions in this inventory, choose those that are relevant to your course. Detailed answers are also included in the download file.

Good Energy,

Paul Hewitt

Supplementary Resources for Conceptual Physics from Paul Hewitt