Thermodynamic Concept Survey (TCS)

Developed by Pornrat Wattanakasiwich, Preeda Taleab, Manjula Devi Sharma, and Ian D. Johnston

Purpose To understand students' conceptual understanding of heat and temperature, the ideal gas law, the first law of thermodynamics and processes.
Format Multiple-choice
Duration 35 min
Focus Thermal / Statistical Content knowledge (temperature, heat transfer, ideal gas law, first law of thermodynamics, phase change, thermal properties of materials)
Level Intermediate, Intro college
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Sample questions from the TCS:

TCS sample questionTCS sample questions

TCS Implementation and Troubleshooting Guide

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P. Wattanakasiwich, P. Taleab, M. Sharma, and I. Johnston, Development and Implementation of a Conceptual Survey in Thermodynamics, Int. J. Innov. Sci. Math. Educ. 21 (1), 29 (2013).
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 TCS were developed using results from previous studies on students’ understanding of thermodynamics topics and then these questions were translated into Thai and the translation was verifies by experts. The content of test questions were reviewed by experts and the test was given to graduate students to make sure the questions were easy to understand. The test was revised and given to Thai students in introductory physics courses as well as those in an upper-division thermodynamics course. The test was then divided into two parts and appropriate parts were given to introductory and upper-division students in Australia. Appropriate statistical analyses of reliability, difficulty and discrimination were conducted and reasonable values found for each. The TCS has been used with over 2000 students at two institutions. There is one peer-reviewed publication presenting TCS data.


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Typical Results

Typical results for TCS from Wattanakasiwich et. al 2013:

Fund = Australian first-year undergraduates who had not studied physics in high school. Reg-1 = Australian first-year undergraduates who mostly studied physics in high school. 1st Adv = Australian first-year honors undergraduates who studied physics in high school. Reg-2 = Australian first-year undergraduates taking the first–year Regular physics course. 2nd Adv = Australian second-year university physics students. Phys-1,2,3, and 4 = Thai first-year undergraduates majoring in science who had studied physics in high school. 2nd Phys = Thai second-year undergraduates physics majors in second-year thermodynamics class.

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The latest version of the TCS, released in 2011, is version 2. Version 2 consists of two parts: Part I covers temperature and heat transfer, and ideal gas law. Part II covers the first law of thermodynamics and processes. In version 1, these two parts were mixed together. They were separated, according to the authors, "to make the survey match with Australian high school curriculum."