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.

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)

    Source - SPT/ El03PN02

    This resource offers teacher 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)

    Source - SPT/ El02TL03

    Adding a battery .. results in the same charged particles (in battery, bulb and connecting wires) moving around the circuit more quickly. 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)

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

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

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

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

    Review sheet

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

    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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