Many pupils have an unclear idea of acceleration and cannot reliably separate it from speed

Forces and Motion


Pupils can sometimes struggle to distinguish the notion of acceleration from that of speed (or velocity). Pupils may think, for instance, that if an object is said to have a large acceleration, it must have a large speed.

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

  • Starting with Acceleration

    Ref - SPT Mo03PN06

    This resource provides a good starting point for pupils who may be encountering acceleration formally for the first time. It lays a solid foundation which can be built upon later in their education.

    One 'trick' is to refer the acceleration values as 'change in metres per second ... every second' repeatedly, before moving to using 'metres per second squared'.

    View Resource
  • Velocity-Time Graph and Acceleration (14-16)

    Ref - Fm02PN05

    This resource suggests that one way to get a handle on velocity is to start with acceleration.

    View Resource
  • Increasing and Constant Speeds (5-11)

    Ref - Mf01TA08

    This resource focuses on a falling dandelion seed and noticing its changing speed.

    View Resource
  • Distinguishing between velocity and acceleration (11-16)

    Ref - Practical physics / Force and Motion / Acceleration / ...

    This experiment allows you to focus on what happens when a constant force is applied to a trolley: its velocity will change but its acceleration will remain constant. Data logging enables you to avoid the distraction of calculations and instantly display the acceleration.

    View Resource
  • Episode 211: Newton's second law of motion

    Ref - TAP / Mechanics / newton's Law ...

    Activities to emphasis the quantities involved in Newton' second law - force; mass; acceleration - and illustrate the difference between velocity and acceleration.

    View Resource


  • Maloney, D. P. () Rule-governed physics: Some novice predictions. European Journal of Science Education, 7 (3),


    DOI: 10.1080/0140528850070307

    Review sheet

  • Driver, R.; Squires, A.; Rushworth, P.; Wood-Robinson, V. () Making Sense of Secondary Science. Routledge, London.

  • Jones, A. T. () Investigation of students' understanding of speed, velocity and acceleration. Research in Science Education, 13 (1),



    This study aimed to identify the conceptions of speed, velocity and acceleration held by a sample of 30 students aged 11-16 in the United States.
    Review sheet

  • Trowbridge, D. E. and McDermott, L. C. () Investigation of student understanding of the concept of acceleration in one dimension. American Journal of Physics, 49 (3),


    Review sheet

  • Watts, D. M. () A study of schoolchildren's alternative frameworks of the concept of force. International Journal of Science Education, 5 (2),



    This study used an interview approach to identify the conceptions of force of 12 students aged 11-17. Students were drawn from a range of schools in the Greater London area, from both junior science classes and advanced-level physics classes.
    Review sheet

  • Clement, J. () Students' alternative conceptions in mechanics: a coherent system of preconceptions? Helm, H. and Novak, J. D. (eds), Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics. Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.


    Review sheet

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