Determining and Interpreting Resistive Electric Circuit Concepts Test (DIRECT)

Developed by Paula Engelhardt and Robert Beichner

Purpose To evaluate students’ understanding of a variety of direct current (DC) resistive electric circuits concepts.
Format Pre/post, Multiple-choice
Duration 30 min
Focus Electricity / Magnetism Content knowledge (DC circuits)
Level Intro college, High school
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Sample questions from the DIRECT:

DIRECT sample question

DIRECT Implementation and Troubleshooting Guide

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P. Engelhardt and R. Beichner, Students' understanding of direct current resistive electrical circuits, Am. J. Phys. 72 (1), 98 (2004).
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Gold Star Validation
This is the highest level of research validation, corresponding to all seven 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 DIRECT were developed based on instructional objectives, literature review and expert input. Free-response versions of the questions were given to students, and the responses were used to create the multiple-choice answers. The DIRECT was given to over 1000 students at the high school and university level across the US. Results were used to conduct appropriate statistical analyses of reliability, difficulty, discrimination and internal consistency, and some of these values were found to be above acceptable thresholds. The test was revised in response to the statistical analysis and student interviews. There is a gender-gap in scores on the DIRECT, with men outscoring women at the high school and university levels. The DIRECT has been given several universities to over 1800 students.


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Language Translator(s)  
Chinese Huixiong Chen
Finnish Antti-Ville Hurskainen and Pekka E. Hirvonen
German Roman Gruchow
Greek Achilleas Kapartzianis
Spanish Luis Pérez, José N. Caraballo, Wilfredo Otaño y Raúl Portuondo
Swedish Kajsa Fransson

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Typical Results

Typical results from Engelhardt and Beichner 2004 (1) and Sangam and Jesiek 2012 (2):

Class level and structure DIRECT Version Pre-test Score (%) Post-test Score (%)
High school traditional1 1.0   41 ± 1
University traditional1 1.0   52 ± 1
High school traditional1 1.1 23 ± 7.6 36 ± 1
University traditional1 1.1 34 ± 12 44 ± 1
University honors course2 1.2 55 63



The latest version of the DIRECT, released in 1997, is version 1.2. Engelhardt's research was conducted with versions 1.0 and 1.1. After an initial round of testing with version 1.0, Engelhardt implemented version 1.1 which increased the number of choices for every question to five, as well as redrawing the realistic circuit diagrams to make them more clear. Her research shows that version 1.1 is slightly more difficult than 1.0, in part because questions which were previously qualitative (e.g., "Which bulb is dimmer?") became qualitative with five available answers (e.g., "How much dimmer is bulb A than bulb B?"). Version 1.2 offers the same questions as 1.1, but with slightly clearer wording. Version 1.2 is most appropriate for an emphasis on the quantitative aspects of circuits, whereas 1.0 is more suited for a qualitative approach.