Conceptual understanding of osmosis and diffusion by Australian first-year biology students

Nicole B. Reinke*, Mary Kynn, Ann L. Parkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Osmosis and diffusion are essential foundation concepts for first-year biology students as they are a key to understanding much of the biology curriculum. However, mastering these concepts can be challenging due to their interdisciplinary and abstract nature. Even at their simplest level, osmosis and diffusion require the learner to imagine processes they cannot see. In addition, many students begin university with flawed beliefs about these two concepts which will impede learning in related areas. The aim of this study was to explore misconceptions around osmosis and diffusion held by first-year cell biology students at an Australian regional university. The 18-item Osmosis and Diffusion Conceptual Assessment was completed by 767 students. From the results, four key misconceptions were identified: approximately half of the participants believed dissolved substances will eventually settle out of a solution; approximately one quarter thought that water will always reach equal levels; one quarter believed that all things expand and contract with temperature; and nearly one third of students believed molecules only move with the addition of external force. Greater attention to identifying and rectifying common misconceptions when teaching first-year students will improve their conceptual understanding of these concepts and benefit their learning in subsequent science subjects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-33
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • Biology
  • Conceptual assessment
  • Diffusion
  • Misconception
  • Osmosis


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