Posted by: angmlr007 | 12/04/2011

A Novel way to create ‘Conceptual Understanding’ Questions in the Science Classroom (and possibly other subjects too…?)

OK perhaps it is not entirely accurate to say that this method is novel, but it is certainly a good change from your typical ‘mug-your-ass-off-and-regurgitate’ styled questions, or your ‘working-and-solution’ questions. Credits to my classmate and friend Theophilus Teo for sharing his question set with me. I can’t produce the exact questions here, but I shall make an adaptation for your reading.

Conceptual Understanding Questions

You are given two phrases linked together by the word ‘BECAUSE’: One is a statement, and the other is a reason proposed for it. Your job is to critique this statement and decide whether the statement and reasons are true or false, and whether the statement and reason are linked by an appropriate cause and effect sentence.

There are several possible scenarios that can arise:

1. Statement and Reason are both True, and are appropriately related by cause and effect.
E.g. When we jump from a height, we experience free-fall BECAUSE of the Earth’s gravitational pull acting upon our body masses that pulls us towards the ground. (PHYSICS)

2. Statement and Reason are both True, but are NOT related to each other by cause and effect.
E.g. Markovnikov’s rule states that with the addition of a protic acid HX to an alkene, the acid hydrogen (H) becomes attached to the carbon with fewer alkyl substituents, and the halide (X) group becomes attached to the carbon with more alkyl substituents, BECAUSE of the sp2 hybridization of the carbon atoms in the C=C bond in alkenes allows for a planar molecular shape. (CHEMISTRY)

3. The Statement is True, but the Reason is False
E.g. We inherit genetic traits from our parents BECAUSE the traits that they have acquired during their lifetime as a result of the environment are passed on to us through Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. (BIOLOGY)

4. The Statement is False, but the Reason is a true statement that is not applicable in this instance.
E.g. We can accelerate past the speed of light BECAUSE conversation of energy dictates that all energy cannot be destroyed in an isolated system, and can be transformed from one form to another. (PHYSICS)

5. The Statement and Reason are both False
E.g. I love to wear pink shorts because the sky is pink. (PURELY RANDOM BULLSHIT)

These questions are interesting, because it forces the individual to take the knowledge he has read from the textbook out and integrate it within his mind. In the successful case, he will be able to apply his knowledge and decipher the underlying problem behind each statement and identify the root cause of the confusion. It is a good way to prepare the scientific mind too

This is most applicable in the Physical Sciences, because they rely a lot on logic and cause-and-effect to explain physical phenomena around us. However, I am certain that such questions could be adapted in other fields as well. Maybe, say, Economics? Or Psychology? Who knows?


Theo and I both agree and hope that NUS High School will apply more of such questions in their curriculum to test its students’ knowledge and understanding of the respective subjects.

Give the science teachers more work when setting questions for quizzes and tests… and more headache for the students who think they are too smart.



  1. It requires a strong command of English. A lot of the students who pursue science do so because their English is not good, here in America. You’ll get a lot of opposition from parents to this kind of testing – “My son no undestand engrish that good. He good in science and math. Why you testing him in Engrish. This science class, right?” that sort of thing.

    I can see using it in college.

  2. I actually use these “two-tier” questions when teaching economics.

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