Student’s Misconceptions on Chemical Bonding: A Comparative Study between High School and First Year University Students


  • José R Ballester Pérez IES Vilamarxant, Valencia (SPAIN)
  • María E Ballester Pérez IES Serpis, Valencia (SPAIN)
  • María L Calatayud Department of Inorganic Chemistry, University of Valencia (SPAIN)
  • Rosa M Garcia-Lopera Department of Physical Chemistry, University of Valencia (SPAIN)
  • José V Sabater Montesinos IES Guillem d’Alcalà, La Pobla de Farnals, Valencia (SPAIN)
  • Elvira Trilles Gil IES Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, Valencia (SPAIN)


misconceptions, chemical bonding, secondary school, undergraduate level


The aim of this paper is to investigate the students' understanding about some aspects of the chemical bond and to determine their related misconceptions. Concretely, topics such as the interpretation of some properties of substances (colour, boiling points, solubility and conductivity), intra and intermolecular forces, hydrogen bonding, covalent and molecular networks, geometry and polarity of molecules, are investigated. The research methodology used has been a questionnaire consisting on 15 multiple choice questions as a diagnostic tool. The questionnaire was applied to 79 high school students (17-18 years old) from six different secondary schools in Valencia (Spain) and 99 first-year undergraduate students of Chemistry and Pharmacy degrees at the University of Valencia (19-20 years old). In the light of the obtained results, the main misconceptions observed are: to attribute macroscopic properties to particles; incorrect prediction of boiling points; to perceive ionic compounds as being formed by molecules; misunderstanding the nature of the hydrogen bond and assuming that it is established in any molecule containing hydrogen together with nitrogen, oxygen or fluorine, regardless if the hydrogen atom is directly bonded to these atoms or not; confusing the geometry of a molecule with its distribution of electron pairs around the central atom; and, finally, a wrong prediction of the polarity of molecules. Suggestions that could be accommodated in normal classrooms, are made in order to improve learning.

Author Biography

Rosa M Garcia-Lopera, Department of Physical Chemistry, University of Valencia (SPAIN)

Professor at the Physical Chemistry department


Barker, V. and Millar, R. (2000). “Students´ reasoning about basic chemical thermodynamics and chemical bonding: what changes occur during a context-based post-16 chemistry courseâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 22(11), pp. 1171-1200.

Birk, J.P. and Kurtz, M.J. (1999). “Effect of experience on retention and elimination of misconceptions about molecular structure and bondingâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 76(1), pp. 124-128.

Boo, H.K. (1998). “Students´ understandings of chemical bonds and the energetics of chemical reactionsâ€, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35(5), pp. 569-581.

Butts, B. and Smith, R. (1987). “HSC chemistry students´ understanding of the structure and properties of molecular and ionic compoundsâ€. Research in Science Education, 17, pp. 192-201.

Coll, R.K. and Treagust, D.F. (2003). “Investigation of secondary school, undergraduate and graduate learners´ mental models of ionic bondingâ€, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(5), pp. 464-486.

Cooper, M.M., Corley, M.L. and Underwood, S.M. (2013). “An investigation of college chemistry students´ understanding of structure-property relationshipsâ€, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50(6), pp. 699-721.

Furió, C. and Calatayud, M.L. (1996). “Difficulties with geometry and polarity of molecules: beyond misconceptionsâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 73(1), 36-41.

Furió-Más, C., Calatayud, M.L. and Bárcenas, S.L. (2007). “Surveying students´ conceptual and procedural knowledge of acid-base behavior of substancesâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 84(10), pp. 1717-1724.

Furió, C. and Dominguez, M.C. (2007). “Deficiencias en la enseñanza habitual de los conceptos macroscópicos de sustancia y de cambio químicoâ€. Revista de Educación en Ciencias, 8(2), pp. 84-91.

Johnson, P. (2000). “Children's understanding of substances, part 1: recognizing chemical changeâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 22(7), pp. 719-737.

Johnson, P. (2002). “Children's understanding of substances, part 2: explaining chemical changeâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 24(10), pp. 1037-1054.

Johnstone, A.H. (1982). Macro- and micro-chemistry. School Science Review, 64, 377-379.

Johnstone, A.H. (1993). “The development of chemistry teaching: a changing response to changing demandâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 70(9), pp. 701-705.

Johnstone, A.H. (2000). “Teaching of chemistry- logical or psychological?â€, Chemistry Education Research & Practice, 1(1), pp. 9-15.

Kind, V. (2004). Beyond appearances: students´misconceptions about basic chemical ideas, (2nd edition), School of Education, Durhan University.

Luxford, C.J. and Bretz, S.L. (2013). “Moving beyond definitions: what student-generated models reveal about their understanding of covalent bonding and ionic bondingâ€, Chemistry Education Research & Practice, 14(2), pp. 214-222.

Nahum, T.L., Mamlok-Naaman, R., Hofstein, A. and Krajcik, J. (2007). “Developing a new teaching approach for the chemical bonding concept aligned with current scientific and pedagogical knowledgeâ€, Science Education, 91(4), pp. 579-603.

Nahum, T.L., Mamlok-Naaman, R., Hofstein, A. and Taber, K.S. (2010). “Teaching and learning the concept of chemical bondingâ€, Studies in Science Education, 46(2), pp. 179-207.

Nakhleh, M.B. (1992). “Why some students don´t learn chemistry: chemical misconceptionsâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 69(3), pp. 191-196.

Nakhleh, M.B. (1994). “Students´ models of matter in the context of acid-base chemistryâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 71(6), pp. 495-499.

Nicoll, G. (2001). “A report of undergraduates´ bonding misconceptionsâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 23(7), pp. 707-730.

Nicoll, G. (2003). “A qualitative investigation of undergraduate chemistry students' macroscopic interpretations of the submicroscopic structures of moleculesâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 80(2), pp. 205-213.

Nyachwaya, J.M. Mohamed, A.R., Roehrig, G.H., Wood, N.B., Kern, A.L. and Schneider, J.L. (2011). “The development of an open-ended drawing tool: an alternative diagnostic tool for assessing students' understanding of the particulate nature of matterâ€, Chemistry Education Research & Practice, 12(2), pp. 121-132.

Othman, J., Treagust, D.F. and Chandrasegaran, A.L. (2008). “An investigation into the relationship between students' conceptions of the particulate nature of matter and their understanding of chemical bondingâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 30(11), pp. 1531-1550.

Özmen, H. (2004). “Some student misconceptions in Chemistry: a literature review of chemical bondingâ€, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 13(2), pp. 147-159.

Peterson, R.F. and Treagust, D.F. (1989). “Grade-12 students' misconceptions of covalent bonding and structureâ€, Journal of Chemical Education, 66(6), pp. 459-460.

Peterson, R.F., Treagust, D.F. and Garnett, P. (1989). “Development and application of a diagnostic instrument to evaluate grade-11 and -12 students´ concepts of covalent bonding and structure following a course of instructionâ€, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 26(4), pp. 301-314.

Schmidt, H.J., Kaufmann, B. and Treagust, D. F. (2009). “Students' understanding of boiling points and intermolecular forcesâ€, Chemistry Education Research & Practice, 10(4), pp. 265-272.

Smith, K.C. and Nakhleh, M.B. (2011). “University students' conceptions of bonding in melting and dissolving phenomenaâ€, Chemistry Education Research & Practice, 12(4), pp. 398-408.

Taber, K. S. (1994). “Misunderstanding the ionic bondâ€, Education in Chemistry-London, 31(4), pp. 100−103.

Taber, K. S. (1997). “Student understanding of ionic bonding: molecular versus electrostatic framework?â€, School Science Review, 78(285), pp. 85–95.

Taber, K.S. (2002). “Chemical misconceptions: prevention, diagnosis and cure. Volume 1: Theoretical backgroundâ€. London: Royal Society of Chemistry, chapter 8, pp.125-139.

Taber, K.S. (2003). “Mediating mental models of metals: acknowledging the priority of the learner's prior learningâ€, Science Education, 87(5), pp. 732-758.

Taber, K. S., Tsaparlis, G. and Nakiboglu, C. (2012). “Student conceptions of ionic bonding: patterns of thinking across three European contextsâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 34(18), pp. 2843–2873.

Tan, K.C.D. and Treagust, D.F. (1999). “Evaluating students´ understanding of chemical bondingâ€, School Science Review, 81(294), pp. 75-83.

Tarhan, L., Ayar-Kayali, H., Urek, R.O. and Acar, B. (2008). “Problem–based learning in 9th grade chemistry class: Intermolecular Forcesâ€, Research in Science Education, 38(3), pp. 285-300.

Treagust, D. F. and Chandrasegaran, A. L. (2009). “The efficacy of an alternative instructional programme designed to enhance secondary students’ competence in the triplet relationshipâ€. In J.K. Gilbert & D.F. Treagust (Eds.), Multiple representations in chemical education. Springer Netherlands. (pp. 151-168).

Treagust, D.F., Chittleborough, G. and Mamiala, T. (2003). “The role of submicroscopic and symbolic representations in chemical explanationsâ€, International Journal of Science Education, 25(11), pp. 1353-1368.

Ãœnal, S., Costu, B. and Ayas, A. (2010). “Secondary school students´ Misconceptions of covalent bondingâ€, Journal of Turkish Science Education, 7(2), pp. 4-29.

Uyulgan, M.A., Akkuzu, N. and Alpat, S. (2014). “Assessing the students' understanding related to molecular geometry using a two-tier diagnostic testâ€, Journal of Baltic Science Education, 13(6), pp. 839-855.

Vladusic, R., Bucat, R.B. and Ozic, M. (2016). “Understanding ionic bonding- a scan across the Croatian education systemâ€, Chemistry Education Research & Practice, 17(4), pp. 685-699.




How to Cite

Ballester Pérez, J. R., Ballester Pérez, M. E., Calatayud, M. L., Garcia-Lopera, R. M., Sabater Montesinos, J. V., & Trilles Gil, E. (2017). Student’s Misconceptions on Chemical Bonding: A Comparative Study between High School and First Year University Students. Asian Journal of Education and E-Learning, 5(1). Retrieved from