Research Article Open Access

Conceptual Understanding in Secondary School Chemistry: A Discussion of the Difficulties Experienced by Students

Kamisah Osman1 and Nur Suhaidah Sukor2
  • 1 Department of Methodology and Educational Practices, Faculty of Education, The National University of Malaysia, Malaysia
  • 2 National Secondary School of Sandakan, Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia


It has been widely discussed that students’ conceptual alternatives in science play a vital role in shaping their scientific understanding acquired through formal science learning. As one of the components in the science subject, students coming to chemistry lessons also bring in them own chemistry conceptual alternatives. It is widely argued that meaningful learning occurrs if students’ actively construct their own understanding out of conceptions they already possess. Thus, it is inescapable that students will need to draw on their alternative conceptions and perhaps rearrange or refuse them to form new concepts. Specifically, this study intends to investigate the conceptual alternatives that students hold in chemistry. The Conceptual Chemistry Test containing 23 multiple choice items which covered 7 topics in the Malaysian Secondary Chemistry Syllabus was specifically designed to reveal students’ alternative conception in chemistry. The respondents comprised 317 Form Five students who took chemistry in school. The reliability of the instrument was measured using Kuder-Richardson (KR-20) and the result showed a moderate value of .50. The researchers, with the help of chemistry experts, have developed the test content and face validity. The result showed that students’ mean score was below 40 and this indicated that they hold significant alternative conception in chemistry. The implication of this research is to emphasize effort to motivate chemistry teachers to use alternative strategies, such as constructivism and cognitive scaffolding in an effort to remedy students’ existing conceptual alternatives.

American Journal of Applied Sciences
Volume 10 No. 5, 2013, 433-441


Submitted On: 1 May 2012 Published On: 17 May 2013

How to Cite: Osman, K. & Sukor, N. S. (2013). Conceptual Understanding in Secondary School Chemistry: A Discussion of the Difficulties Experienced by Students. American Journal of Applied Sciences, 10(5), 433-441.

  • 32 Citations



  • Conceptual Alternatives
  • Conceptual Understanding
  • Chemistry Teaching
  • Chemistry Learning