Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM)

Developed by David Maloney, Alan van Heuvelen, Curtis Hieggelke, and Thomas O'Kuma

Purpose To assess students’ knowledge about topics in introductory electricity and magnetism.
Format Pre/post, Multiple-choice
Duration 50 min
Focus Electricity / Magnetism Content knowledge (electrostatics, magnetic fields and forces, Faraday's law)
Level Intro college
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Sample questions from the CSEM:

CSEM sample questions

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D. Maloney, T. O'Kuma, C. Hieggelke, and A. Van Heuvelen, Surveying students' conceptual knowledge of electricity and magnetism, Am. J. Phys. 69 (S1), S12 (2001).
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Silver Validation
This is the second highest level of research validation, corresponding to at least 5 of the validation categories below.

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • Student thinking

Studied Using:

  • Student interviews
  • Expert review
  • Appropriate statistical analysis

Research Conducted:

  • At multiple institutions
  • By multiple research groups
  • Peer-reviewed publication

The multiple-choice questions on the CSEM were developed using students’ explanations for their responses on both open-ended and multiple-choice versions of the questions, expert review (100+ physics instructors) and analyzing large sets of test data (from over 5000 students at over 30 institutions including two-year and four-year colleges, and universities). Appropriate statistical analyses of difficulty, discrimination and reliability were performed. The CSEM questions have a reasonable range of difficulties and most questions are able to satisfactorily distinguish students who know the material well from those who don’t. The overall reliability of the CSEM is good. A factor analysis was performed, but no strong factors were identified. The CSEM has been used to compare the effectiveness of different teaching methods and the results published in over 15 peer-reviewed publications. It has been administered at many different institutions.


PhysPort provides translations of assessments as a service to our users, but does not endorse the accuracy or validity of translations. Assessments validated for one language and culture may not be valid for other languages and cultures.

Language Translator(s)  
Indonesian Mutmainna
Malay Mohd Ariff Ab Ghani & Shahrul kadri Ayop
Spanish Genaro Zavala, Pablo Barniol, and Esmeralda Campos
Swedish David Nordman

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Typical Results

Typical results from study by Eaton et al., 2019 who analyzed BEMA and CSEM data obtained from PhysPort's Data Explorer.

  Source  n Mean Score Std.Dev.
CSEM-Pre Eaton 2022, private communication  4191 28.3% 12.9%


Eaton et al., 2019 9905 44.6% 18.5%

The latest version of the CSEM is version H, originally published in Maloney, O’Kuma, Hieggelke, & Van Heuvelen, 2001. The development of the CSEM began with the development of two separate assessments on electricity and magnetism, originally called the Electric Concepts Inventory (ECI) and the Magnetism Concepts Inventory (MCI), which were tested in 1995-97. These assessments were later renamed the Conceptual Survey of Electricity (CSE) and the Conceptual Survey for Magnetism (CSM), and combined to form the CSEM. Earlier versions of the CSEM include versions D and G. Version H differs only slightly from Version G, and has the same answer key.