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 Home > JCEDLib > QBank > Collection > CQs and ChPs > CQs >
Conceptual Questions (CQs): What Are Conceptual Questions?
Conceptual questions are questions that require a student to create an answer rather than simply to recall something or to activate an algorithm. Conceptual questions are higher-order questions. They fall into the third of the three broad categories used to assess student knowledge.

Three categories of questions

  • Recall
  • Algorithmic
  • Higher-order
Recall questions
ask students to recall facts, equations, or explanations. Examples are
  • What is the symbol for sodium?
  • Write the equation used to determine standard state enthalpy changes from standard enthalpies of formation.
  • Which of the following compounds is insoluble: KCl, KNO3, AgCl, AgNO3?
Algorithmic questions
ask students to use information or processes in a familiar way. A programmed computer could answer many of these questions. Examples are:
  • Write the electron configuration of a cobalt atom and identify the number of unpaired electrons.
  • Determine the mass of CuO necessary to prepare 25.0 grams of Cu(NO3)2.
    • CuO + 2HNO3 --> Cu(NO3)2 + H2O
  • Using VSEPR, identify the molecular structure of NH3.
  • Determine the chloride ion concentration in a saturated solution of AgCl (Ksp = 1.8 x 10-10).
Higher-order questions
require some combination of the following:
  • Translation of information from words to symbols or from symbols to words.
  • Interpretation of information in order to select relevant data or to determine the interrelation among parts.
  • Extrapolation in order to infer consequences.
  • Application of principles to new problems or situations, that is, to problems or situations that contain some elements of newness or unfamiliarity.
  • Analysis of information for underlying principles and relationships or for clues to information needed to address a problem or question.
  • Synthesis of a logical hypothesis, experiment, or model from a collection of inputs.
  • Evaluation of new information, experiment, or model.
Higher-order questions often involve at least some concepts or behaviors that are unfamiliar to a student. Consequently, what constitutes a higher-order question depends on where students are located on the academic ladder. Novice students may find stoichiometry problems conceptually challenging, but after practice these become routine algorithmic exercises.

Examples of higher-order questions are scattered throughout the Conceptual Questions web site.

Where do conceptual questions fall in the categories of questions?

Conceptual questions are higher-order questions. As such, they may

  • Assess student understanding of the underlying ideas behind chemical phenomena.
  • Require students to explain an unfamiliar phenomenon.
  • Test the transfer of knowledge to a new situation.
  • Require students to adapt an explanation to a new situation.
  • Require students to identify the underlying concept in order to recognize which algorithm to invoke.
  • Cause a student to visualize a system and use it to reach a conclusion.
  • Have more than one acceptable answer.
  • Require students to analyze information to select relevant data.
  • Be used in the classroom as occasions of learning as well as on examinations for evaluation.

Remember, whether a student finds a question to be conceptual or not will depends on the knowledge and experience level of that student. The question "Is it more difficult to remove an electron from a chlorine atom or from a sulfur atom?" is likely a conceptual question for students starting a study of periodic properties but becomes an algorithmic question for a student familiar the material.

How do we identify a conceptual question?

Conceptual questions present a chemical situation that a student has not trained with and ask the student to

  • Justify a choice.
  • Predict what happens next.
  • Explain why something happens.
  • Explain how something happens.
  • Link two or more areas or topics.
  • Recognize questions phrased in a novel way.
  • Extract useful data from an excess of information.

Conceptual questions require more than simple recall. They require students to synthesize answers or to evaluate a problem in order to select the mathematical tools necessary to arrive at an answer. Many conceptual questions are non-quantitative. Some conceptual questions may have several acceptable answers.

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