Many students will not understand that sound can be absorbed by materials and few will explain sound absorption via vibrations (this could extend to other types of wave also)

Light, Sound and Waves


Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York BEST website.

Resources to Address This

  • Ear defenders (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TA13

    Although these activities might be seen as a design exercise, and so be primarily a Design and Technology activity, it's important that the story of the route taken by the travelling vibrations is central.

    View Resource
  • Sounds getting softer (11-14)

    Ref - SPT So01 TL08

    One of the ways in which the sound get quieter is that the energy of the vibrations is transferred to more and more particles as the vibrations spread out over a larger and larger sphere.

    In addition, some of the sound may be absorbed by the stuff through which it travels. In this case not all of the vibration of one block of particles is passed onto the next – some of the energy gets spread around, resulting in a disordered jiggling, rather than in the organised vibration of the sound. Materials and structures that do this particularly well are good sound insulators – good at insulating source from detector.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Barman, C.R. Barman, N.S. & J.A. Miller, () Two teaching methods and students' understanding of sound, School Science and Mathematics, 96 (2),


    Review sheet

  • Eshach, H. & Schwartzb, J. L. () Sound Stuff? Naïve materialism in middle-school students’ conceptions of sound. International Journal of Science Education, 28 (7),


    Review sheet

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