Circuits Concept Inventory

The goal is to produce a set of simple multiple-choice tests that will (a) reveal student misunderstanding of circuit theory concepts prior to taking the circuits courses and (b) measure student gains in understanding of circuit theory concepts upon completion of the courses. The exams will thus serve as assessment tools to be used in the continuous improvement-of-curriculum feedback loop.

For more information or to obtain copies of the circuits concept inventories (CCIs), please contact Bob Helgeland or Dave Rancour, Electrical Engineering Department, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMD).

Typical Student Background

The typical student entering the first circuits course will already have taken

  • two semesters of calculus
  • two semesters of physics
  • two semesters of freshman engineering

Second-semester physics topics related to circuit theory include

  • electric fields
  • magnetic fields
  • flux
  • electric potential
  • elementary DC circuits
  • elementary AC circuits

Second-semester freshman engineering topics related to circuit theory include

  • elementary DC circuits
  • elementary AC circuits


Circuit Theory Concepts

Concepts addressed by the CCI exams as of 1/20/03 include

  • Basic switch connections (1 question)
  • Series/parallel equivalent components (6 questions
  • Current and voltage conservation laws (4 questions)
  • Voltage and current dividers (4 questions)
  • Response of first-order circuits (8 questions)
  • Characteristic parameters of AC signals (10 questions)
  • Dependent sources (2 questions)
  • Impulse response (1 question)
  • Time domain and s-domain signals (1 question)
  • Frequency response (2 questions)
  • Resonance (2 questions)
  • Fourier series (2 questions)
    (Total:  43 questions)

Future versions will also include

  • Thevenin/Norton equivalents
  • Superposition
  • Node and Mesh analysis
  • Complex numbers
  • Coupled inductors
  • Phasors
  • Poles and zeros
  • Response of second-order circuits
  • Convolution
  • Three-phase power

CCI Development Process and
Lessons Learned

Principle developers Bob Helgeland and Dave Rancour met together with three graduate students to brainstorm potential CCI questions. CCI topics were determined from the circuit theory I and II course catalog descriptions, and three CCI exams were developed over the fall 2001/spring 2002 semesters.

The exams were given to circuit-theory classes at UMD during the summer and fall 2002 terms. Upon analyzing the results, we discovered some flaws in the CCI design:

  1. Many of the questions were deliberately made to have multiple correct answers, e.g., a question with choices a–d having b–d, all as correct responses. This made statistical analysis of the data more challenging because of the large assortment of partially correct responses.
  2. The total number of choices (right plus wrong answers) per question varied from 3 to 6, i.e., a–c to a–f. This also complicated the data analysis, e.g., we could not quickly interpret a 25% score as being equivalent to random guessing, which would be the case if all questions had exactly four choices.

Revised versions of the CCI, to be given at UMD in the spring 2003 term, have exactly four choices per question, with only one of the choices being correct.


References for Further Information

  1. Hestenes, David, Malcolm Wells, and Gregg Swackhamer (1992). Force Concept Inventory. The Physics Teacher, 30 (3), 141-151
  2. Hestenes, David, and Ibrahim Halloun (1995). Interpreting the Force Concept Inventory. The Physics Teacher, 33 (8)
  3. Halloun, Ibrahim and David Hestenes (1985). The initial knowledge state of college physics students. American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 1043-1055
  4. Halloun, Ibrahim and David Hestenes (1985). Common sense concepts about motion. American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 1056-1065
  5. D. L. Evans and David Hestenes, "The Concept of the Concept Inventory Assessment Instrument," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, NV, USA
  6. Evans, D.L., Midkiff, C., Miller, R., Morgan, J., Krause, S., Martin, J., Notaros, B.M., Rancour, D., and Wage, K. (2002). “Tools for Assessing Conceptual Understanding in the Engineering Sciences,” Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Boston, USA
  7. Evans, D.L., Gray, G.L.., Krause, S.J., Martin, J.K.., Midkiff, C., Notaros, B.M., Pavelich, M., Rancour, D., Reed-Rhoads, T., Steif, P., Streveler, R., Wage, K.E. (2003). “Progress on Concept Inventory Assessment Tools,” Proceedings of the Frontiers in Education Conference.