Some students who know sound is carried through the air may describe sound as moving forward passed from one molecule to another molecule

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

  • Sounds - groups of particles moving to and fro (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TL03

    The challenge here is for pupils to come to recognise and to understand the scientific view of what sound is: the disturbance created by the source, which travels out through the surrounding medium. The disturbance itself consists of successive regions of high and low-density air created by the forwards and backwards motion of millions of air particles. No to and fro motion – no sound.

    View Resource
  • How are we able to hear? (11-14)

    Ref - SPT So01 PN02

    What sound is

    As the disturbance of high and low-density regions travels out through the air, each block of air moves backwards and forwards following the motion of the loudspeaker cone. ....  Each block of air moves backwards and forwards. It is not the case that the block of air that starts directly in front of the loudspeaker cone ends up at your ear. The sound travels through the air but the air itself simply moves backwards and forwards.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Mazens, K. & Lautrey, J. () Conceptual change in physics: children’s naive representations of sound Cognitive Development 18



    Review sheet

  • Iliaki, G., Velentzas, A., Michailidi, E. & Stavrou, D. () Exploring the music: a teaching-learning sequenceabout sound in authentic settings Research in Science & Technological Education Routledge

    Review sheet

  • Hernandez, M. I., Couso, D. & Pinto, R. () The Analysis of Students’ Conceptions as a Support for Designinga Teaching/Learning Sequence on the Acoustic Propertiesof Materials J Sci Educ Technol 21


    Review sheet

  • M. Wittmann, R.N. Steinberg & E. F. Redish () Understanding and affecting student reasoning about sound waves International Journal of Science Education 25 8


    Review sheet

  • Leccia, S., Colantonio, A., Puddu, E., Galano, S. & Testa, I. () Teaching about mechanical waves and sound with a tuning fork and the Sun Physics Education 50 6 IOPP


    Review sheet

  • Caleon, I. & Subramaniam, R. () Development and Application of a Three‐Tier Diagnostic Test to Assess Secondary Students’ Understanding of Waves International Journal of Science Education 32 7


    Review sheet

  • Hrepic, Z., Zollman, D. and Rebello, N.S. () Identifying students’ mental models of sound propagation: The role of conceptual blending in understanding conceptual change Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research 6 020114

    Review sheet

  • Houle, M.E. and Barnett, G.M. () Students’ Conceptions of Sound Waves Resulting from the Enactment of a New Technology-Enhanced Inquiry-Based Curriculum on Urban Bird Communication Journal of Science Education Technology 17


    Review sheet

  • Pejuan, A., Bohigas, X., Jaen, X. and Periago, C. () Misconceptions about sound among engineering students J Sci Educ Technol 21


    Review sheet

  • West, E. and Wallin, A. () Students' Learning of a Generalised Theory of Sound Transmission from a Teaching-learning sequence about sound, hearing and health. International Journal of Science Education 35 6 Sweden


    Review sheet

  • Linder, C. J. () University physics students’ conceptualizations of factors affecting the speed of sound propagation International Journal of Science Education 15 6 South Africa


    Review sheet

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