Many students conflate velocity with speed

Forces and Motion


Students may also believe that instantaneous and average speeds and velocities are always the same size. 

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

  • What about velocity? (11-14)

    Ref - SPT/ Mo01PN06

    This resource gives an accessible explanation of the difference between velocity and speed.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • 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

  • Champagne, A. B.; Gunstone, R. F. and Klopfer, L. E. () "Effecting changes in cognitive structures among physics students" in West, L. H. T. and Pines, A. L. (eds), Cognitive Structure and Conceptual Change. Academic Press, Pittsburgh.


    This study aimed to probe the cognitive structure of 13 middle school students in Pittsburgh designated as 'academically gifted', as well as six non-physics major university science graduates studying to become high school science teachers. Five tests of cognitive structure were used either side of a 10-week instructional period.
    Review sheet

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