The Geoscience Concept Inventory

Many people ask me for access to questions that have been developed over time as part of the bank of items that evaluate geoscience understanding. Here are item sets, including links to papers, that have been evaluated using item response theory approaches. This space will be updated as new items sets become available:

  1. Geoscience Concept Inventory Item Bank
  2. Climate Change Concept Inventory Item Set
  3. Earth Systems Science Item Bank

Geoscience Concept Inventory Item Bank
A valid and reliable bank of items designed for diagnosis of alternative conceptions and assessment of learning in entry-level earth science courses. Rasch analysis was used to generate a bank of items aligned with ability.

The online testing system for the GCI is no longer active. A word document containing original GCI items is available here: GCI_v3.April2011_origGCI. Instructors and researchers are encouraged to use these items freely and without restriction. Item numbers correlate to numbers in paper reporting on GCI Rasch analysis: Libarkin, J.C., Anderson, S.W., 2006, The Geoscience Concept Inventory: Application of Rasch Analysis to Concept Inventory Development in Higher Education: in Applications of Rasch Measurement in Science Education, ed. X. Liu and W. Boone: JAM Publishers, p. 45-73: LibarkinandAnderson2006

DESCRIPTION: The Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI) is a multiple-choice assessment instrument for use in the Earth sciences classroom. The GCI v.1.0 consisted of 69 validated questions that could be selected by an instructor to create a customized 15-question GCI subtest for use in their course. These test items cover topics related to general physical geology concepts, as well as underlying fundamental ideas in physics and chemistry, such as gravity and radioactivity, that are integral to understanding the conceptual Earth. Each question has gone through rigorous reliability and validation studies. Over TWENTY colleagues have contributed new questions to the item bank, bringing the number of available, high quality questions to almost 200.

We built the the GCI using the most rigorous methodologies available, including scale development theory, grounded theory, and item response theory (IRT). To ensure inventory validity we incorporated a mixed methods approach using advanced psychometric techniques not commonly used in developing content-specific assessment instruments. We conducted ~75 interviews with college students, collected nearly 1000 open-ended questionnaires, grounded test content in these qualitative data, and piloted test items at over 40 institutions nationwide, with ~5000 student participants.

In brief, the development of the GCI involved interviewing students, collecting open-ended questionnaires, generating test items based upon student responses, soliciting external review of items by both scientists and educators, pilot testing of items, analysis of items via standard factor analysis and item response theory, “Think Aloud” interviews with students during test piloting, revision, re-piloting, and re-analysis of items iteratively. Although time consuming, the resulting statistical rigor of the items on an IRT scale suggest that the methods we have used constitute highly valid practice for assessment test development.

Climate Change Concept Inventory Item Set

A valid and reliable assessment instrument designed for diagnosis of alternative conceptions and assessment of learning around climate change conceptions. Rasch analysis was used to validate the alignment of the item set with ability.

Two publications document the utility of this measure with respect to the general public and college students. Both studies considered the impact of conceptual understanding, affect and world views on risk perception.

a) College students: Aksit, O., McNeal, K., Gold, A., Libarkin, J., Harris, S., 2018, The influence of instruction, prior knowledge, and values on climate change risk perception among undergraduates: Journal of Research in Science Teaching, v. 55, p. 550–572.

b) General public: Libarkin, J.C., Gold, A., Harris, S., McNeal, K., Bowles, R., 2018, A new, valid measure of climate change understanding: Associations with risk perception: Climatic Change., v. 150(3), p. 403-416.

Earth Systems Science Item Bank
A valid and reliable bank of items designed for diagnosis of alternative conceptions and assessment of learning around Earth’s spheres. Rasch analysis was used to evaluate the relationship of ability to items and to allow comparison of understanding within one sphere to another.

Publication of results and items is ongoing.

Learn more about geocognition and geoscience education research.

Climate science education research: a short bibliography

More and more, scientists are becoming interested in understanding the ways in which the general public, students, and even scientists understand climate science. Here is a short – and thus incomplete – set of papers researchers might find useful for developing research questions around climate science in education, communication, or similar fields.

Andersson, B., & Wallin, A. (2000). Students’ understanding of the greenhouse effect, the societal consequences of reducing CO2 emissions and the problem of ozone layer depletion. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(10), 1096-1111.

Bodzin, A. M., Anastasio, D., Sahagian, D., Peffer, T., Dempsey, C., & Steelman, R. (2014). Investigating climate change understandings of urban middle-level students. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(3), 417-430.

Boon, H. J. (2010). Climate change? Who knows? A comparison of secondary students and pre-service teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35, 104-120.

Bostrom, A., Morgan, M. G., Fischhoff, B., & Read, D. (1994). What do people know about global climate change? 1. Mental models. Risk Analysis, 14(6), 959-970.

Boyes, E., Skamp, K., & Stanisstreet, M. (2009). Australian secondary students’ views about global warming: Beliefs about actions, and willingness to act. Research in Science Education, 39(5), 661-680.

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions [CRED]. (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public. New York: Columbia University, CRED.

Cordero, E., Marie Todd, A., & Abellera, D. (2008). Climate change education and the ecological footprint. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89(6), 865–872.

Corner, A., Markowitz, E., & Pidgeon, N. (2014). Public engagement with climate change: the role of human values. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(3), 411-422.

Corner, A., Roberts, O., Chiari, S., Völler, S., Mayrhuber, E. S., Mandl, S., & Monson, K. (2015). How do young people engage with climate change? The role of knowledge, values, message framing, and trusted communicators. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 6(5), 523-534.

Feldman, L., Nisbet, M. C., Leiserowitz, A., & Maibach, E. (2010). The climate change generation? Survey analysis of the perceptions and beliefs of young Americans. Joint Report of American University’s School of Communication, The Yale Project on Climate Change, and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Retrieved from:

Francis C., Boyes, E., Qualter, A., & Stanisstreet, M. (1993). Ideas of elementary students about reducing the “greenhouse effect”. Science Education, 77(4), 375-392.

Grotzer, T., & Lincoln, R. (2007). Educating for “intelligent environmental action” in an age of global warming. In Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, edited by S.C. Moser and L. Dilling, (pp. 266-280). New York: Cambridge University Press

Guy, S., Kashima, Y., Walker, I., & O’Neill, S. (2014). Investigating the effects of knowledge and ideology on climate change beliefs. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44(5), 421-429.

Hamilton, L. C. (2008). Who cares about Polar Regions? Results from a survey of U.S. public opinion. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 40(4), 671-678.

Hamilton, L.C. (2011). Education, politics and opinions about climate change evidence for interaction effects. Climatic Change, 104(2), 231–242.

Harris. S.E., & Gold, A.U. 2017. Learning molecular behaviour may improve student explanatory models of the greenhouse effect. Environmental Education Research,

Hartley, L. M., Wilke, B. J., Schramm, J. W., D’Avanzo, C., & Anderson, C. W. (2011). College students’ understanding of the carbon cycle: Contrasting principle-based and informal reasoning. BioScience, 61(1), 65-75.

Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2(10), 732-735.

Kerr, S. C., & Walz, K. A. (2007). Holes in student understanding: Addressing prevalent misconceptions regarding atmospheric environmental chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 84(10), 1693-1696.

Khalid, T. (2001). Pre-service Teachers’ Misconceptions Regarding Three Environmental Issues. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 6, 102-120.

Khalid, T. (2003). Pre-service high school teachers’ perceptions of three environmental phenomena. Environmental Education Research, 9(1), 35-50.

Lambert, J. L., & Bleicher, R. E. (2014). Improving Climate Change Communication Starting with Environmental Educators. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(3), 388-401.

Lambert, J. L., Lindgren, J., & Bleicher, R. (2012). Assessing elementary science methods students’ understanding about global climate change. International Journal of Science Education, 34(8), 1167-1187.

Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Hmielowski, J. (2012). Global Warming’s Six Americas, March, 2012 & Nov. 2011. New Haven, CT: Yale University and George Mason University, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N. & Marlon, J.R. (2010) Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change. Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Retrieved from:

Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N., & Marlon, J. R. (2011). American teens’ knowledge of climate change. Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Lenzen, M., & Murray, J. (2001). The Role of Equity and Lifestyles in Education about Climate Change: Experiences from a Large-scale Teacher Development Program. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 6, 32-51.

Libarkin, J. C., Thomas, S. R., & Ording, G. (2015). Factor Analysis of Drawings: Application to college student models of the greenhouse effect. International Journal of Science Education, 37(13), 2214-2236.

Libarkin, J.C., Gold, A.U., Harris, S.E. McNeal, K.S., & Bowles, R. (2015). Psychometric Principles in Measurement for Geoscience Education Research: A Climate Change Example. In American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Abstracts, San Fransciso, CA.

Lombardi, D., & Sinatra, G. M. (2012). College students’ perceptions about the plausibility of human-induced climate change. Research in Science Education, 42(2), 201-217.

Lombardi, D., & Sinatra, G.M. (2013). Emotions about teaching about human-induced climate change. International Journal of Science Education, 35(1), 167-191.

Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Leiserowitz, A. (2009). Global warming’s six Americas 2009: An Audience Segmentation Analysis. Yale Project on Climate Change, Yale University and George Mason University, New Haven, CT.

Malka, A., Krosnick, J. A., & Langer, G. (2009). The association of knowledge with concern about global warming: Trusted information sources shape public thinking. Risk Analysis, 29(5), 633-647.

McCaffrey, M. S., & Buhr, S. M. (2008). Clarifying climate confusion: addressing systemic holes, cognitive gaps, and misconceptions through climate literacy. Physical Geography, 29(6), 512-528.

McCright, A. M. (2016). Anti-Reflexivity and Climate Change Skepticism in the US General Public. Human Ecology Review, 22(2), 77–107.

McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2011a). The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(2), 155-194.

McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2011b). Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change, 21(4), 1163-1172.

McNeal, K. S., Hammerman, J. K., Christiansen, J. A., & Carroll, F. J. (2014). Climate change education in the Southeastern US through public dialogue: Not just preaching to the choir. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(4), 631-644.

McNeal, K. S., Libarkin, J. C., Ledley, T. S., Bardar, E., Haddad, N., Ellins, K., & Dutta, S. (2014). The Role of Research in Online Curriculum Development: The Case of EarthLabs Climate Change and Earth System Modules. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(4), 560-577.

McNeal, K. S., Spry, J. M., Mitra, R., & Tipton, J. L. (2014). Measuring Student Engagement, Knowledge, and Perceptions of Climate Change in an Introductory Environmental Geology Course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(4), 655-667.

Morgan, M. D., & Moran, J. M. (1995). Understanding the greenhouse effect and the ozone shield: An index of scientific literacy among university students. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 76(7), 1185-1190.


Ockwell, D., Whitmarsh, L., & O’Neill, S. (2009). Reorienting climate change communication for effective mitigation: Forcing people to be green or fostering grass-roots engagement? Science Communication, 30, 305-327.

O’Connor, R. E., Bord, R. J., & Fisher, A. (1999). Risk perceptions, general environmental beliefs, and willingness to address climate change. Risk Analysis, 19(3), 461-471.

Papadimitriou, V. (2004). Prospective primary teachers’ understanding of climate change, greenhouse effect, and ozone layer depletion. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 13(2), 299-307.

Porter, D., Weaver, A. J., & Raptis, H. (2012). Assessing students’ learning about fundamental concepts of climate change under two different conditions. Environmental Education Research, 18(5), 665-686.

Rebich, S., & Gautier, C. (2005). Concept mapping to reveal prior knowledge and conceptual change in a mock summit course on global climate change. Journal of Geoscience Education, 53(4), 355-365.


Shepardson, D. P., Niyogi, D., Choi, S., & Charusombat, U. (2009). Seventh grade students’ conceptions of global warming and climate change. Environmental Education Research, 15(5), 549-570.

Shepardson, D. P., Niyogi, D., Choi, S., & Charusombat, U. (2011). Students’ conceptions about the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change. Climatic Change, 104(3-4), 481-507.

Shi, J., Visschers, V. H., Siegrist, M., & Arvai, J. (2016). Knowledge as a driver of public perceptions about climate change reassessed. Nature Climate Change, 6(8), 759-762.

Smith, N., & Leiserowitz, A. (2012). The rise of global warming skepticism: Exploring affective image associations in the United States over time. Risk Analysis, 32(6), 1021-1032.

Steg, L., De Groot, J. I., Dreijerink, L., Abrahamse, W., & Siero, F. (2011). General antecedents of personal norms, policy acceptability, and intentions: The role of values, worldviews, and environmental concern. Society and Natural Resources, 24(4), 349-367.

Steg, L., Perlaviciute, G., Van der Werff, E., & Lurvink, J. (2014). The significance of hedonic values for environmentally relevant attitudes, preferences, and actions. Environment and Behavior, 46(2), 163-192.

Sterman, J. D., & Sweeney, L. B. (2007). Understanding public complacency about climate change: Adults’ mental models of climate change violate conservation of matter. Climatic Change, 80(3-4), 213-238.

Stevenson, K. T., Peterson, M. N., Bondell, H. D., Moore, S. E., & Carrier, S. J. (2014). Overcoming skepticism with education: interacting influences of worldview and climate change knowledge on perceived climate change risk among adolescents. Climatic Change, 126(3-4), 293-304.

Sullivan, S. M. B., Ledley, T. S., Lynds, S. E., & Gold, A. U. (2014). Navigating climate science in the classroom: Teacher preparation, perceptions and practices. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62(4), 550-559.

Sundblad, E. L., Biel, A., & Gärling, T. (2007). Cognitive and affective risk judgements related to climate change. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27(2), 97-106.

Theissen, K. M. (2008). The Earth’s Record of Climate: A Focused-topic Introductory Course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 56(4), 342-353.

Tobler, C., Visschers, V. H., & Siegrist, M. (2012). Consumers’ knowledge about climate change. Climatic Change, 114(2), 189-209.

Viscusi, W. K., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (2006). The perception and valuation of the risks of climate change: a rational and behavioral blend. Climatic Change, 77(1-2), 151-177.

Wachholz, S., Artz, N., & Chene, D. (2014). Warming to the idea: university students’ knowledge and attitudes about climate change. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 15(2), 128-141.

Weber, E. U., & Stern, P. C. (2011). Public understanding of climate change in the United States. American Psychologist, 66(4), 315-328.

Wise, S. B. (2010). Climate change in the classroom: Patterns, motivations, and barriers to instruction among Colorado science teachers. Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(5), 297-309.