To gain insight into the cognitive activities of students during an assessment task, students in Statics courses at three universities were asked to explain their answer to a multiple choice question about the equilibrium of bodies under given loads. Explanations were compared for similarity of terminology using Latent Semantic Analysis and then coded to determine if and when students invoked concepts of force and moment equilibrium. Both terminology and thinking was shown to be consistent across universities. Ideas related to equilibrium were invoked by nearly all students. Students differed principally on whether they applied both force and moment equilibrium consistently and correctly, and if they clearly differentiated between forces and moments. Different codings were sufficiently correlated with the different answer choices, so that one could make a reasonable guess as to a student’s thinking based on the answer choice alone.

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