Many students have difficulty using arrows to indicate the direction and point of action of a force

Forces and Motion


In particular, some students may think that it does not matter whether the tip or end of an arrow is placed at the point of action.

Resources to Address This

  • Cardboard arrows (5-11 and 11-14)

    This resource will help children to identify forces and give them a language to describe forces.

    View Resource
  • Looking through forces spectacles 

    This resource outlines a classroom activity where students make simplified drawings of force arrows.

    View Resource
  • Keeping it simple: modelling (5-11 and 11-14)

    Shows the steps to take when moving from a picture of an object to a force diagram, with the arrows correctly positioned.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Trumper, R. and Gorsky, P. () A cross-college age study about physics students' conceptions of force in pre-service training for high school teachers. Physics Education, 31 (4), 227-236.

    Secondary school students have a wide range of different ideas about energy, many of which do not match those in physics. These non-scientific conceptions are often founded due to the use of everyday language which is significantly different to the language used in physics lessons. To overcome these limitations the authors suggest using an approach which pits everyday descriptions against more scientific approaches, directly challenging the students to form new mental models and to use specific language.

    Paper digest

  • Terry, C.; Jones, G. and Hurford, W. () Children's Conceptual Understanding of Forces and Equilibrium. Physics Education, 20,


    Equilibrium is difficult for secondary school students to fully understand as they cannot clearly picture the forces acting on a stationary object or one moving at constant velocity. This research suggests that teachers develop students’ ability to draw accurate force diagrams for scenarios involving balanced and unbalanced forces before describing changes in motion.

    Paper digest

  • diSessa, A. () Unlearning Aristotelian Physics: A Study of Knowledge-Based Learning. Cognitive Science, 6 (1), 37-75.

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today