Few pupils can say in words what the physical quantity measured by a voltmeter is

Electricity and Magnetism


Students may struggle to explain what the physical quantity being measured in volts is. This is particularly so when the voltmeter is connected across passive components, rather than across the power source.

Resources to Address This

  • What do Voltages Measure? (11-14)

    Source - SPT / El03TL05

    This resource discusses a variety of ways that teachers can use to talk about voltage to students of different ages and abilities.

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  • Voltage and Potential Difference

    This resource offers some guidance on the use of common voltage/gravitational potential analogies in the classroom.

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  • Lamp brightness comparison (11-16)

    Source - Practical physics/ Electric circuits and fields/ Potential difference/ ...

    This experiment provides an excellent introduction to the concept of potential difference (voltage). Students observe that two lamps with the same current give out quite different amounts of light and this sets off a discussion.

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The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Psillos, D.; Tiberghien, A. and Koumaras, P. () Voltage presented as a primary concept in an introductory teaching sequence on DC circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 10 (1),


    Review sheet

  • Summers, M.; Kruger, C. and Mant, J. () Teaching electricity effectively in the primary school: a case study. International Journal of Science Education 20 (2),


    Review sheet

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