Many students can use the word 'force' (to mean a push or a pull) and understand that a force is needed to get a stationary object moving

Forces and Motion


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

  • Let's talk forces (5-11 and 11-14)

    This resource will help you discuss the term 'force' with your class.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Bliss, J.; Ogborn, J. and Whitelock, D. () Secondary school pupils' commonsense theories of motion. International Journal of Science Education, 11 (3), 263-272.

    Asking students to analyse images from comic strips, rather than the more common force diagrams used in lessons, can be useful in establishing students understanding of forces. The approach also helps to identify misconceptions, based on students ‘common sense’ when they give their descriptions. These ideas are often resilient to change and need to be explicitly challenged in teaching and learning activities.

    Paper digest

  • Watts, D. M. () A study of schoolchildren's alternative frameworks of the concept of force. International Journal of Science Education, 5 (2), 217-230.

    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.

  • Lythott, J. () "'Aristotelian' was given as the answer, but what was the question?" in Helm, H. and Novak, J. D. (eds), Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misonceptions in Science and Mathematics. Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., 257-265.

    The self-proclaimed purpose of this paper is "to raise questions concerning the advisability of the continued use of such adjectives, specifically "Aristotelian", without a concerted effort to understand whether or not it is an appropriate label for what it purports to describe."

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