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Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI)


To monitor whether students have issues understanding and applying core ideas in the biological sciences. Consists of a set of 30 questions on a range of foundational ideas including.

– Stochastic processes: Q1,5,25, 29, 30

– Energetics & molecular interactions: Q2, 3, 17, 18

– Molecular properties: Q10, 11, 13, 19, 20

– Genetic behaviors: Q7, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28

– Evolution: Q4, 6, 12, 14, 26

– Experimental design: Q8, 9


Appropriate for all stages of an undergraduate biology curriculum, focused on foundational concepts in cell, molecular, and evolutionary biology. Like all mulitple-choice based instruments, it is not appropriate as a summative assessment of learning gains, but rather useful in identifying areas that may need to be reconsidered in the course of instruction.

Typical Performance

We have yet to carry out an analysis of the LASSO data for typical performance, although the developers of the instrument students found pretest scores around 40% and posttest scores around 74% across the 3 institutions the instrument was initially tested at.

Example question:

What makes DNA a good place to store information?

  • The hydrogen bonds that hold it together are very stable and difficult to break.
  • The bases always bind to their correct partner.
  • The sequence of bases does not greatly influence the structure of the molecule.
  • The overall shape of the molecule reflects the information stored in it.


  • Work on the BCI began in 2003 (Klymkowsky, M. W., K. Garvin-Doxas & M. Zeilik (2003). “Bioliteracy and teaching efficacy: what biologists can learn from physicists.” Cell Biol Educ 2: 155-161).

The development and validation of the BCI, based on student and expert responses, and its use in revealing student thinking about core concepts in biology has been described in a number of papers including:

  • Klymkowsky, M. W., R. Gheen and K. Garvin-Doxas (2006). Avoiding reflex responses: Strategies for revealing students’ conceptual understanding in biology. Physics Education Research Conference, Syracuse, NY.
  • Klymkowsky, M. W. and K. Garvin-Doxas (2008). “Recognizing Student Misconceptions through Ed’s Tool and the Biology Concept Inventory.” PLoS Biol 6: e3.
  • Klymkowsky, M. W., S. M. Underwood and K. Garvin-Doxas (2010) “Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI): A diagnostic tool for revealing student thinking.” arXiv
  • Queloz, A. C., M. W. Klymkowsky, E. Stern, E. Hafen and K. Köhler (2017). “Diagnostic of students’ misconceptions using the Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI): A method for conducting an educational needs assessment.” PloS One 12(5): e0176906.


Perhaps the most important insight from the BCI has been the recognition of students consistent misunderstanding of stochastic processes, which underlie a range of processes in evolutionary and molecular biology (Garvin-Doxas, K. and M. W. Klymkowsky (2008). “Understanding Randomness and its impact on Student Learning: Lessons from the Biology Concept Inventory (BCI).” Life Science Education 7: 227-233.)

Example LASSO Report

Please follow this link to our example report for concept inventories.

More Information

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