10 Easy Science Questions That Stumped College Grads

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Talia Lakritz

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These questions stumped college graduates.Syda Productions / Shutterstock

The National Science Foundation conducts a survey every two to three years to evaluate how good Americans are at science. The questions vary slightly from year to year, but they all have to do with basic facts in physical and biological sciences.

Both the general public and people who have obtained bachelor's degrees were stumped by the quiz. College graduates consistently scored higher than the general public, but didn't earn a perfect score on any question.


See if you can pass the most recent form of the test from 2016.

  1. 1. True or false? The center of the Earth is very hot.

    Earth. NASA

    Of the general public, 85% got this right, as did 89% of college grads surveyed.

  2. Answer: True.

    The Earth's core. Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock

    The temperature of Earth's core is an estimated 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit — as hot as the surface of the sun.

    2. True or false? The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move.

    The seven continents. Maxger/Shutterstock

    Of all those surveyed, 81% answered correctly, and 87% of college graduates specifically.

    Answer: True.

    Pangea before and after. Designua/Shutterstock

    Earth's outermost layer, called the lithosphere, is broken into tectonic plates that shift a few inches every year. The theory of plate tectonics posits that the supercontinent Pangea broke apart and that individual continents are still moving thanks to the motion of these plates.


    3. Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

    The Sun. NASA

    Overall, 73% chose the correct answer. College grads scored 10% higher with 83%.

    Answer: The Earth goes around the Sun.

    The solar system. Withan Tor/Shutterstock

    Before the Space Age gave us photos of the solar system, astronomers observed the phases of Venus, moons of Jupiter, and stellar parallax — the changing positions of stars over time — to prove that the Earth is not stationary and that it orbits the sun.

    4. True or false? All radioactivity is man-made.

    Zoltan Acs/Shutterstock

    In total, 70% of respondents got this right. People with college degrees pulled ahead by 10% again with 80% correct answers.

  4. Answer: False.

    The sun emits radiation. NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

    The sun and stars emit cosmic radiation that interacts with Earth's atmosphere. There's also natural radioactive material in soil, water, and vegetation.

    5. True or false? Electrons are smaller than atoms.

    A conceptual illustration of an atom. Anusorn Nakdee/Shutterstock

    Less than half of Americans got this right at 48%. College graduates did a little better with 59%.

    Answer: True.

    A conceptual illustration of an atom. adison pangchai/Shutterstock

    Electrons are much less massive than the protons and neutrons that make up the nucleus of an atom.


    6. True or false? Lasers work by focusing sound waves.

    Laser beams. X-etra/Shutterstock

    Again, less than half (45%) of Americans picked the right answer. Just over half of college graduates (52%) got it right.

    Answer: False.

    A laser beam. Doug McLean/Shutterstock

    "Laser" stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers concentrate light waves, not sound waves.

    7. True or false? The universe began with a huge explosion.

  6. Nine years' worth of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed about 10,000 galaxies in one of the deepest, darkest patches of night sky in the universe .NASA/ESA/IPAC/Caltech/STScI/Arizona State University

    39% of those surveyed got this right compared to 44% of college grads.

    Answer: True.

    The Big Bang Expansion. NASA

    The Big Bang was more of an expansion than an explosion, but the correct answer is "true."

    8. True or false? It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

    Father and daughter. Shutterstock

    Overall, 59% percent answered correctly, as did 71% of those with a bachelor's degree.

    Answer: True.

    Sperm reaching an egg. Shutterstock

    Sperm carry either X (female) or Y (male) chromosomes. The sex of the baby is determined by whichever sperm reaches the egg first.


    9. True or false? Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria.

    i viewfinder/Shutterstock

    Just over half of Americans chose correctly at 51% in contrast to 73% or almost 3/4 of college grads.

  8. Answer: False.

    A 3D illustration of Bacteria Lactobacillus. Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

    Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

    10. True or false? Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.


    In total, 52% percent got this right. As for college graduates, 63% were correct.

    Answer: True.

    Hominoids share a common ancestor. Tim Vickers/Wikimedia Commons

    Evolution by natural selection is "one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science," according to LiveScience.

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