Concept Inventories: Predicting the Wrong Answer May Boost Performance

Chemical education researchers often use concept inventories to assess the depth of conceptual understanding their students have about a variety of topics. These inventories are normally multiple-choice documents. The authors of these inventories are careful in choosing distractor answer choices based upon common misconceptions and faulty knowledge that students generally have. Besides informing the instructor of common misconceptions and other gaps in understanding, these inventories can also help determine the value of specific interventions designed to address those common misconceptions.

In reading the recently published JCE article, Concept Inventories: Predicting the Wrong Answer May Boost Performance, I was reminded of a variety of ways to encourage students to reflect on their answer choices for a longer time period. We can ask students to rate their confidence in their answer choice or to assess the rightness of their answers. Additionally, Talanquer suggests providing students with a prompt that asks them to predict the choices that uninformed students will incorrectly choose as the correct answer. Using any of these added treatments is intended to encourage deeper analytical reasoning and reflection as they choose their answers and possibly encourage deeper understanding of the content. 



The preview image is used with permission from Concept Inventories: Predicting the Wrong Answer May Boost Performance, Vicente Talanquer, Journal of Chemical Education Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00427 Copyright 2017 American Chemical Society.

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Comments 2

Jacob Van Oosterhout's picture
Jacob Van Oosterhout | Sun, 12/03/2017 - 21:03

Thank you for the research highlight.  I'm just beginning my practice in the chemistry classroom and I'm already noticing that some of the most powerful learning occurs when students think deeply (and uncomfortably) about the content, especially how to explain an observation that doesn't "make sense."  However, I am also noticing that students really do not like being wrong, and getting students in the mindset to examine why a conception is not backed up by the data can be like pulling teeth.  Using an even less-informed third person as a scaffold to start thinking about more fundamental misconceptions does sound like a powerful tool to get students to start thinking metacognitively.  Could you please elaborate on some of the techniques to encourage students to be comfortable being wrong (outside of the final exam, of course)?

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Mon, 12/04/2017 - 13:15

Hi Jacob! So many of us are looking for ways to encourage discourse! And, one of the main roadblocks is building trust in the classroom so that students feel more comfortable being wrong. This is the main reason that I  felt others would be interested in this article that I read. For me, I made sure to include a variety of team building and guided inquiry activities the first few weeks of school that have students working in groups. I always have students share with their small groups to come up with their BEST answer before having them share with the whole class. Students are more comfortable with being wrong in front of a small number of students as opposed to the whole class. I am sharing a few other posts of activities that I have used to encourage discourse.

 is an activity that I have used for several years now to begin my general chemistry course.

We recently had a call for contributions for . You might find many of these articles helpful since creating a culture is key to encouraging discourse. 

These two links are a good start, but you can find many other examples of helping students understand that "wrong" answers are just a part of science and learning. Good luck!