Students often struggle to define 'electricity' precisely

Electricity and Magnetism


It is common for students to use the term 'electricity' in an ambiguous fashion that does not differentiate between the concepts of current, potential difference, energy and related terms with precise meaning.

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

  • Model Precise Terminology (11-14)

    Source - SPT/ El01TL06

    This teaching tip encourages you to think about how the way we use language in the classroom affects student thinking.

    View Resource
  • Helpful and Unhelpful Ideas about Electric Circuits (11-14)

    Source - SPT/ El01TL02

    This resource highlights potential pitfalls in student thinking and how to avoid them.

    View Resource
  • Think again - about electric circuits (14-16)

    Source - SPT/ Ee01TA01

    These diagnostic questions are used for two main reasons:

    • To encourage students to talk and think through their understandings of electric circuits.
    • To provide the teacher with formative assessment information about the students' understandings of electric circuits.
    View Resource
  • Episode 100: Preparation for electric circuit topic (16-19)

    Source - TAP/ Electricity/ Electric current

    Most students will be familiar with concepts of charge, current and voltage from their previous work at pre-16 level. However, these ideas are often muddled and this can be a real obstacle to progress so it is well worth reinforcing simple ideas and providing basic training ...

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Küçüközer, H. and Kocakülah, S. () Effect of Simple Electric Circuits Teaching on Conceptual Change in Grade 9 Physics Course. Journal of Turkish Science Education.

    Review sheet

  • Summers, M.; Kruger, C. and Mant, J. () Teaching electricity effectively in the primary school: a case study. International Journal of Science Education, 20 (2),


    Review sheet

  • Borges, A. and Gilbert, J. () Mental models of electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 21 (1),


    Review sheet

  • Lee, L. and Law, N. () Explorations in promoting conceptual change in electrical concepts via ontological category shift. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (2),


    Review sheet

  • Bryan, J. A. and Stuessy, C. () The "Brightness Rules" alternative conception for light bulb circuits. Physics Education, 41 (6),


    Review sheet

  • McDermott, L. C. and Shaffer, P. S. () Research as a guide for curriculum development: An example from introductory electricity. Part I: Investigation of student understanding. American Journal of Physics, 60 (11),


    Review sheet

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