Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS)

Developed by Sam McKagan, Kathy Perkins, and Carl Wieman

Purpose To measure the effectiveness of different teaching methods at improving students’ conceptual understanding of quantum mechanics, and to use such measurements to improve their teaching.
Format Multiple-choice
Duration 20 min
Focus Modern / Quantum Content knowledge (wave functions, probability, wave-particle duality, uncertainty principle, infinite square well, one-dimensional tunneling, energy levels)
Level Intermediate
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Sample question from the QMCS:

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S. McKagan, K. Perkins, and C. Wieman, Design and validation of the Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 6 (2), 020121 (2010).
External Resources

The Colorado Science Education Initiative has developed a wide range of curricular materials for teaching sophomore-level modern physics, of which the QMCS is only one. Please visit the course website for other materials such as group activities, clicker questions, and homework.

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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 QMCS were developed based on faculty interviews, a review of textbooks and syllabi, observations of students, and a literature review of known student difficulties. The initial set of questions was refined using student interviews with over 40 students and expert review. Further, the QMCS was given to over 1000 sophomore, junior, and graduate students and appropriate statistical analysis of reliability, difficulty and discrimination were conducted. Reasonable values were found for each. The QMCS has been tested with over 1000 students and results published in two peer-reviewed articles.


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Language Translator(s)  
Finnish Risto Leinonen
Japanese Atsushi Hatakeyama, Hiroto Ohta, Hiroyoshi Lang

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Typical Results

Typical scores from McKagan et. al 2010:

Class N Pre Pre-test score (%) N Post Post-test score (%)
modern physics for engineering majors, traditional 60 34 ± 2 42 60 ± 3
modern physics for engineering majors, reformed 246 35 ± 1 202 67 ± 2
modern physics for physics majors, traditional 63 41 ± 2 57 50 ± 2
modern physics for physics majors, reformed     69 69 ± 2
junior QM     22 79 ± 4
graduate QM     16 81 ± 6

The latest version of the QMCS, released in 2008, is version 2.0. The QMCS has gone through 13 different versions in the process of development, with many questions being eliminated, modified, or added based on research with students.