Few students can clearly distinguish the ideas of electric current and potential difference

Electricity and Magnetism


Many students see potential difference, or voltage, as a consequence of electric current, rather than a cause of it.

Additionally, students may think that voltage can flow through a circuit and are unable to distinguish between charge, current and voltage.

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.

Resources to Address This

  • Relationship between Current and Voltage and Resistance (11-14)

    This resource offers teachers some guidance on how to successfully disentangle the concepts of electric current, voltage and resistance for students.

    View Resource
  • Adding batteries produces a bigger current (11-14)

    Adding a battery results in the charged particles moving around the circuit more quickly (in the battery, bulb and connecting wires). More charged particles pass each point per second. In other words, the current increases.

    View Resource
  • The water circuit: modelling current and potential difference (11-16)

    Current can be modelled by the flow of water; potential difference corresponds to water pressure.

    View Resource


  • Küçüközer, H. and Kocakülah, S. () Secondary School Students' Misconceptions about Simple Electric Circuits. Journal of Turkish Science Education.

    Bulbs are often used in the teaching of series and parallel circuits, but using these does not always help students understand the concept of conservation of current and the relationship between voltage, current and energy transfer. This paper discusses some of the students’ misconceptions that need to be addressed and suggests using meters more often to analyse circuit behaviour.

    Paper digest

  • Küçüközer, H. and Kocakülah, S. () Effect of Simple Electric Circuits Teaching on Conceptual Change in Grade 9 Physics Course. Journal of Turkish Science Education.

    When studying electricity, the most difficult concept for secondary students to understand is that of potential difference or voltage. Students cannot clearly separate it from current or energy and the simple circuits used do not always help. This paper shows that teachers need to describe and model currents and voltages more clearly, using meters to measure instead of relying on concepts such as ‘brightness’.

    Paper digest

  • Dupin, J. and Johsua, S. () Conceptions of French pupils concerning electric circuits: Structure and evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 24 (9), 791-806.

    Overcoming student misconceptions about currents and voltages can be difficult, and students can retain inaccurate ideas if the links between these are not discussed fully. This paper shows how some of the misconceptions can be tackled successfully while outlining those that are more difficult to resolve.

    Paper digest

  • Turgut, Ü., Gürbüz, F. and Turgut, G. () An investigation 10th grade students’ misconceptions about electric current. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 15, 1965-1971.

  • Cohen, R., Eylon, B. and Ganiel, U. () Potential difference and current in simple electric circuits: A study of students’ concepts. American Journal of Physics, 51 (5), 407-412.

  • Shaffer, P. S. and McDermott, L. C. () Research as a guide for curriculum development: An example from introductory electricity. Part II: Design of instructional strategies. American Journal of Physics, 60 (11),


  • Benseghir, A. and Closset, J. L. () The electrostatics‐electrokinetics transition: historical and educational difficulties. International Journal of Science Education, 18 (2), 179-191.

  • Millar, R. and Beh, K. L. () Students’ understanding of voltage in simple parallel electric circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 15 (4), 351-361.

  • Millar, R. and King, T. () Students’ understanding of voltage in simple series electric circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 15 (3), 339-349.

  • Engelhardt, P. V. and Beichner, R. J. () Students’ understanding of direct current resistive electrical circuits. American Journal of Physics, 72 (1), 98-115.

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