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This study was conducted to examine the basic conceptual knowledge and understanding of physics possessed by students enrolled in introductory physics, mechanics and waves and optics courses at John Abbott College (JAC). The study used a 36-item multiple-choice test of physics preconcepts developed by Halloun and Hestenes. The Halloun and Hestenes test was administered to 510 JAC students and to 57 high school students at a neighboring feeder high school, and results were compared with Halloun and Hestenes' results of an administration of the test to high school, university, and college students in Arizona. Study findings included the following: (1) the conceptual knowledge of the Quebec high school students was consistent with that of the Arizona high school students; (2) conventional instruction did little to improve JAC students' and Arizona college students' understanding of mechanics concepts; (3) the mechanics scheme held by most JAC students was comparable to that held by students in other countries; (4) in Quebec, language of instruction did not affect the development of students' understanding of the conceptual framework of mechanics; and (5) Halloun and Hestenes' test could not serve by itself as a placement test for the mechanics course at JAC.
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