Identifying SQL Misconceptions of Novices: Findings from a Think-Aloud Study

Daphne Miedema, Efthimia Aivaloglou, George Fletcher

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference article in proceedingAcademicpeer-review


SQL is the most commonly taught database query language. While previous research has investigated the errors made by novices during SQL query formulation, the underlying causes for these errors have remained unexplored. Understanding the basic misconceptions held by novices which lead to these errors would help improve how we teach query languages to our students. In this paper we aim to identify the misconceptions that might be the causes of documented SQL errors that novices make. To this end, we conducted a qualitative think-aloud study to gather information on the thinking process of university students while solving query formulation problems. With the queries in hand, we analyzed the underlying causes for the errors made by our participants. In this paper we present the identified SQL misconceptions organized into four top-level categories: misconceptions based in previous course knowledge, generalization-based misconceptions, language-based misconceptions, and misconceptions due to an incomplete or incorrect mental model. A deep exploration of misconceptions can uncover gaps in instruction. By drawing attention to these, we aim to improve SQL education.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research
EditorsAmy J. Ko, Jan Vahrenhold, Renée McCauley, Matthias Hauswirth
Place of PublicationNew York, NY, USA
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9781450383264
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2021
Event17th ACM conference on international computing education research: ICER 2021 - Online, United States
Duration: 16 Aug 202119 Aug 2021


Conference17th ACM conference on international computing education research
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • SQL
  • databases
  • misconceptions


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