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Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM)


The CSEM assesses students understanding of basic concepts in electricity and magnetism including one-dimensional kinematics, Newton’s laws, two-dimensional motion with constant acceleration, and vector sums.


The CSEM is commonly administered in introductory college electricity and magnetism courses (algebra-based and calculus-based).

Typical Performance

Maloney and colleagues (2001) found that calculus-based students average pretest score was 31% and average posttest score was 47%. These scores were 25% and 44% respectivley for algebra-based students.

As the LASSO database grows and includes more results from the CSEM, we expect to integrate more detailed results on the performance typically found in introductory physics courses.

Example question



Maloney and colleagues developed the CSEM using student explanations to both open-ended and multiple choice questions. They developed validity arguments for the instrument using expert review of the questions and appropriate statistical analyses. The test covers a useful range of difficulties for calculus-based and algebra-based introductory physics courses and discriminates between students that do and do not understand the material.

  • Maloney, D. P., O’Kuma, T. L., Hieggelke, C. J., & Van Heuvelen, A. (2001). Surveying students’ conceptual knowledge of electricity and magnetism. American Journal of Physics, 69(S1), S12-S23.

  • Laverty, J. T., & Caballero, M. D. (2018). Analysis of the most common concept inventories in physics: What are we assessing?. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 14(1), 010123.


The research conducted with the CSEM is broad. We recommend using Google Scholar and the citations listed under validation to find articles of interest.

Example LASSO Report

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

More Information

For more information, please visit the Physport webpage on the CSEM.