Conceptual Chemistry Questions

scantron and pencil

The new AP Chemistry Curriculum and the NGSS both focus on developing deep conceptual understanding. In order to achieve this, teachers must identify the objectives they need to teach to and stockpile a good assortment of conceptual questions for formative and summative assessments to support those objectives. An understanding of common misconceptions related to chemistry content is also important in designing meaningful assessments.

The Journal of Chemical Education has published several recent articles discussing research concerning misconceptions, assessments, conceptual questions, and concept inventories that are directly related to high school chemistry curriculum. If you are specifically interested in reading materials geared to developing an assessment plan, I recommend starting with a 2012 JCE editorial (freely available) submitted by Stacey Lowery Bretz of Miami of Ohio University, .1

is currently divided among the ChemEd X and the Chemical Education Digital Library. ChemEd X is the source of the questions including the answers and handles requests for access to the questions with answers, which is restricted to verified teachers who pay a small fee. Use the  to request access to download QBank questions with answers . offers .

ChemEd X also offers  including a review of the types of conceptual questions and a questions. Also, included here is the 2, developed in 1996 at Purdue. It is a useful tool that has been cited in many JCE articles. The inventory was published in the June 2002 issue of JCE.3

are intended for large lecture halls, but high school teachers can make use of many of the questions. A list of will take you directly to related questions. for using the questions and an that makes suggestions for using the questions are available.

is a long-term science education reform initiative. The team produces questions based upon known misconceptions and pilots them as part of the process. Registered users can choose items to create their own tests.

Related JCE articles: This is not an all inclusive list, but a small sample of the valuable resources related to conceptual chemistry questions available from JCE.

, Marcy H. Towns, Journal of Chemical Education 2014 91 (9), 1426-1431

, Paul G. Jasien, Journal of Chemical Education 2013 90 (12), 1609-1615

, Thomas C. Pentecost and Jack Barbera, Journal of Chemical Education 2013 90 (7), 839-845

, Paul Schwartz and Jack Barbera, Journal of Chemical Education 2014 91 (5), 630-640 

, Ellen J. Yezierski and James P. Birk, Journal of Chemical Education 2006 83 (6), 954

, David Wren and Jack Barbera, Journal of Chemical Education 2013 90 (12), 1590-1601

, Alexandra R. Brandriet and Stacey Lowery Bretz, Journal of Chemical Education 2014 91 (8), 1132-1144

, Cynthia J. Luxford and Stacey Lowery Bretz, Journal of Chemical Education 2014 91 (3), 312-320

, Chad A. Bridle and Ellen J. Yezierski, Journal of Chemical Education 2012 89 (2), 192-198

John M. Domyancich, Journal of Chemical Education 2014 91 (9), 1347-1351



1. , Stacey Lowery Bretz, Journal of Chemical Education 2012 89 (6), 689-691

2. The was developed by Doug Mulford for his M.S. thesis,  (Douglas R. Mulford, M.S., Purdue University, August, 1996. An Inventory for Measuring College Students' Level Of Misconceptions in First Semester Chemistry. Major Professor: William R. Robinson)

3. , Douglas R. Mulford and William R. Robinson, Journal of Chemical Education 2002 79 (6), 739


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Comments 2

Dan Meyers's picture
Dan Meyers | Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:41

Thank you for these resources! As I have attended some workshops on NGSS and our department continues to explore NGSS, one thing that keeps coming up is the assessment bit. We aren’t quite sure how to do it. Even my School Improvement team is looking at taking on NGSS next year but the evaluation portion leaves us wondering how to go about it.

Your post today helps me identify what kinds of questions to be thinking about for assessments. Especially in Chem 2 where the assessments focus on the mathematics involved - I can look at including some additional conceptual questions like those shown in the "Chemistry Concepts Inventory" or in some of the articles that you provided (Towns 2014; Luxford & Bretz 2014). One question I do have in looking at these articles is the following: How do you grade 2-tier multiple choice questions? If a student gets the first question wrong, are they doomed on the follow up? Can a 2-tier assessment model be effectively used in high school tests or should tests focus on the first question only?

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Wed, 02/18/2015 - 17:14

Good question, Dan. This issue is definitely easier on a free response test, but I have revised some of those questions into multiple-choice items. One way to handle that issue is to write a first tier question as an individual item. Then, write a similar (but different) question that actually provides the answer to the first part before moving into the second tier question. This allows for assessing the knowledge required for the tier one item and also assures that when testing the tier two item, the student will not be held back by an incorrect answer to that first item. I am in the midst of trying to improve some old assessment items into conceptual questions, so I have found the resources I listed very useful. I am interested if others with more expertise with assessment than I have would have other comments for you.