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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Science Quizzes

By October 2, 2008

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I personally define chemistry and physics the same: the scientific study of matter and energy and the relationships between them. Basically this means physical science is the study of everything, so a chemist, physicist, or engineer should have a good grasp of basic scientific principles, right? Right!

With that in mind, I put together a few quizzes based on what kids learn in school about general science. Given that your average 8th grader supposedly knows the answers to these quiz questions, the quizzes should be easy. It turns out that isn't necessarily true because it was tricky to come up with 'wrong' answers to go along with the right ones. If you disagree with any of my quiz answers, please feel free to post a reply.


October 6, 2008 at 10:14 am
(1) Gareth Cook says:

Thanks for the great science quizzes.
It was an excellent collection of questions (and answers)which I shared with some of my friends and colleagues.
We enjoyed them very much.

October 6, 2008 at 12:14 pm
(2) Esther says:

I would love to have this kind of quizes more often.It could help lots students and
Teachers to get motivated and think further.
Thanks a lot,


October 7, 2008 at 10:50 am
(3) TJ says:

Hmmm. I’ve begun to think about how science is actually taught and learned in school. I wonder how little emphasis there is actually on “thinking” about problems. Then I come across a “simple” quiz likely meant for elementary school kids and realize that it’s often in just the way questions are asked and the multiple choice answer possibilities. For instance, an insect does have “6 or 8″ legs (note the logic of the “or”) — yet the correct answer is “d. 6″. Plus, a nucleus does actually contain electrons (I know, I know. I was taught that there are “only” protons and neutrons too, up until I took it upon myself to learn about subatomic particles). First, there is a small probability that an electron from the atomic structure of the atom will be found inside the nucleus (a glance at the s-, p-, etc wavefunction — wait, Chemists call them “orbitals” — suggests that this is true), plus a neutron that loses an electron’s worth of mass and charge (hence, it loses an electron) becomes a proton (plus neutrino, etc). Not to mention that a proton that gains an electron becomes a neutron (plus neutrino, etc) — so, how will a neutron in the nucleus gain an electron if there are no electrons in the nucleus? (Little Timmy sleeping in the back of Science class asks his teacher) …I wonder about these subtleties on occasion. Where do students learn to *think* in the context of quizzes? I’ve always hated tests. I despise them. :)

October 7, 2008 at 2:23 pm
(4) chemistry says:


I had my 8th grader take these quizzes for me. He goes, “Mom, you know sometimes the electron can be in the nucleus, right?” Yep, I did, and if I had been his teacher I would not have counted that answer wrong, provided he explained his reasoning. I honestly did not expect him to know that.

I’m not sure how to edit the insect answers to improve that question. “6-8 legs” isn’t any better than “6 or 8 legs”. Maybe “sometimes 6 legs and sometimes 8 legs in their adult stage”? Really, when you think about it, insects under metamorphosis, so…

It’s hard to avoid overthinking the questions and answers. I’d welcome any ideas for questions/answers for future quizzes.

October 7, 2008 at 3:48 pm
(5) TJ says:

The real issue is that often we find teachers who merely grade by the book without much room for explanation, and even those who are grading by post-quiz explanation do so only when certain students who are courageous-enough to speak up when something is wrong. I was one of those who literally slept through most of K-12, just letting the wind blow through my grades, questioning nothing, but often included marginal notes to the teacher.

There are in fact, volumes of published literature concerning misunderstandings in scientific coursework — just today I reviewed a paper on the misunderstanding among high school and undergraduate students that “neutral” electrostatic objects are “negatively” charged — why? Because, as students tend to reason, “if it’s not positive, it must be negative, right? They’re opposites. (etc)” Another example is “one object has a positive charge, another object has no charge. Which one is a conductor?” (answer: unknown) Most students simply reason that since conductors can “readily carry a charge” and “insulators cannot as-readily carry a charge”, the answer must be the one with a charge. It is as important for the teacher to examine the intent and objective of questions as it is for the student-teacher to have an open discourse on the matter. Otherwise, we’ll have a society of “yes-men” who simply agree with whatever is in the textbook.

anyway, not to detract from the fun of your quizzes. A friend of mine missed the visual chemistry quiz question with a picture of lead blocks because she admits that she simply didn’t see the word “lead” in the list of options. That reminds me of the psychological video where you’re asked to count the number of times basketball team A passes the ball among themselves. Then when the video is shown, about half of the people watching the video don’t see the hairy gorilla-suited guy meander through the video. :)

October 7, 2008 at 3:54 pm
(6) TJ says:

Incidentally, the “6 or 8″ answer may be written simply as “some have 6, some have 8″, and the other answers may read, “all have 4″, “all have 6″, etc. Eliminates ambiguity, makes it less of a guessing game, etc.

Just a thought.

I like that many colleges are insisting on essays as part of their application. Simple answers rarely mark a person’s intelligence (except on well-prepared IQ-type exams– even then, they are quite subjective).

October 13, 2008 at 7:44 pm
(7) David says:

I’m in Year 12 (HSC Chemistry final exam in a bit over 2 weeks) and got all of them bar the one about the android robot.

November 7, 2010 at 7:35 pm
(8) jessica says:

the science quizes has helped me alot

May 14, 2011 at 8:50 am
(9) vishnu says:

thankyou verymuch. it is really great

November 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm
(10) kay anna says:

Thank you so much it help me in my finals keeep doing great6 on the webpage

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