Table 7-5
Adult and student correct answers to factual knowledge questions
(Percent correct)
            U.S. adult   Student
Factual Questions Field of study Concepts
2008 General
Social Survey
International Question
1. A farmer thinks that the vegetables on her farm are not getting enough water. Her son suggests that they use water from the nearby ocean to water the vegetables. Is this a good idea?   Earth and space sciences   Water cycle; nature of the oceans and their effects on water and climate; location of water, its distribution, characteristics, and its effect and influence on human activity 86   61 NA NAEP 2005, 4th grade
2. Traits are transferred from generation to generation through the… Life sciences Reproduction and heredity 80 86 74 TIMSS Science 2003, 8th grade
3. How do most fish get the oxygen they need to survive? Life sciences Change and evolution; adaptation and natural selection 76 78 NA NAEP 2005, 8th grade
4. What property of water is most important for living organisms? Physical sciences Matter and its transformations 69 76 NA NAEP 2000, 8th grade
5. Which of the following is NOT
an example of erosion?
Earth and space sciences Composition of the Earth; forces that alter the Earth's surface; rocks: their formation, characteristics, and uses; soil: its changes and uses; natural resources used by humankind; and forces within the Earth 55 37 NA NAEP 2005, 8th grade
6. Lightning and thunder happen at the same time, but you see the lightning before you hear the thunder. Explain why this is so. Physical sciences Frames of reference, force and changes in position and motion, action and reaction, vibrations and waves as motion, electromagnetic radiation, and interactions of electomagnetic radiation with matter 45 36 NA NAEP 2005, 8th grade
7. A solution of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in water will turn blue litmus paper red. A solution of the base sodium hydroxide (NaOH) in water will turn red litmus paper blue. If the acid and base solutions are mixed in the right proportion, the resulting solution will cause neither red nor blue litmus paper to change color. Explain why the litmus paper does not change color in the mixed solution. Chemistry Acids and bases 20 17 21 TIMSS 2003, 8th grade

NA = not available, question not asked

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress; TIMSS = Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

NOTES: Questions appeared in 2008 General Social Survey. Original sources of questions are NAEP and TIMSS. For complete questions, see sidebar: "New Science Knowledge Questions."

SOURCES: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center, General Social Survey (2008), see appendix table 7-12; NAEP,, accessed 22 September 2009; and TIMSS,, accessed 22 September 2009.

Science and Engineering Indicators 2010