Using conceptests to assess and improve student conceptual understanding in introductory geoscience courses

David A. McConnell, David N. Steer, Katharine D. Owens, Jeffrey R. Knott, Stephen Van Horn, Walter Borowski, Jeffrey Dick, Annabelle Foos, Michelle Malone, Heidi McGrew, Lisa Greer, Peter J. Heaney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Conceptests are higher-order multiple-choice questions that focus on one key concept of an instructor's major learning goals for a lesson. When coupled with student interaction through peer instruction, conceptests represent a rapid method of formative assessment of student understanding, require minimal changes to the instructional environment and introduce many of the recognized principles of effective teaching that enhance student learning. In this study, instructors from several different institutions developed over 300 conceptests for the geosciences. These instructors then used this suite of concept questions in a wide range of classroom settings, including large introductory general education Earth Science courses for non-majors at open enrollment institutions, smaller physical geology classes suitable for majors at private colleges, and in introductory geology laboratory settings. Results of pre- and post-class Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI) testing and qualitative feedback from students and instructors showed that conceptests increased attendance, improved student satisfaction, and enhanced student achievement. Participating instructors found implementation of conceptests into their classes straightforward and required less than 30 minutes of preparation per class. The conceptest question database is available on-line for geoscience instructors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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