Date of this Version


Document Type



[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.] Standardized assessment tests that allow researchers to compare the performance of students under various curricula are highly desirable. There are several research-based conceptual tests that serve as instruments to assess and identify students’ difficulties in lower-division courses. At the upper-division level assessing students’ difficulties is a more challenging task. Although several research groups are currently working on such tests, their reliability and validity are still under investigation. We analyze the results of the Colorado Upper-Division Electrostatics diagnostic from Oregon State University and compare it with data from the University of Colorado. In particular, we show potential shortcomings in the Oregon State University curriculum regarding separation of variables and boundary conditions, as well as uncover weaknesses of the rubric to the free-response version of the diagnostic. We also demonstrate how the diagnostic can be used to obtain information about student learning during a gap in instruction. Our work complements and extends the previous findings from the University of Colorado by highlighting important differences in student learning that may be related to the curriculum, illuminating difficulties with the rubric for certain problems and verifying decay in post-test results over time.




Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article’s title, journal citation, and DOI.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.11.020125