The study assesses science and engineering students’ difficulties in understanding vector concepts. Test of understanding of vectors was administered to 101 university students who were completing their second introductory physics course. Rasch measurement software (Winsteps) was used to analyze the raw data. The concepts that the students found most difficult were identified; these included the graphical representation of a unit vector, the graphical addition and subtraction of vectors, and the interpretation of the dot and cross products, among others. On the other hand, some concepts were easier for students, such as the magnitude of a vector presented in unit-vector notation, and determination of the components of vectors. No significant differences in understanding of vector concepts could be attributed to gender; however, engineering students outperformed science students in understanding vector concepts. This study offers recommendations that physics instructors and researchers can use to improve the teaching of vector concepts.
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