The contributions of working memory and executive functioning to problem representation and solution generation in algebraic word problems

Kerry LEE, Ee Lynn NG, Swee Fong NG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticles

86 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Solving algebraic word problems involves multiple cognitive phases. The authors used a multitask approach to examine the extent to which working memory and executive functioning are associated with generating problem models and producing solutions. They tested 255 11-year-olds on working memory (Counting Recall, Letter Memory, and Keep Track), ability to inhibit inappropriate responses (inhibition: numeric Stroop, Stop Signal), mental flexibility (switching: Number-Letter and Plus-Minus), English literacy, and algebraic problem-solving skills (problem representation, solution generation, and other subcomponents). Working memory explained about a quarter of the variance in both representation and solution formation. Literacy explained an additional 20% of the variance in representation formation. Ability to discern quantitative relationships explained an additional 10%. The findings go beyond a demonstration of an association between working memory and problem-solving accuracy. They show that success in word problems is particularly reliant on ability to decode and assign mathematical operators to quantitative relationships, 2 phases of problem solving that also draw heavily on working memory resources. Copyright © 2009 American Psychological Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-387
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Volume101
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Citation

Lee, K., Ng, E. L., & Ng, S. F. (2009). The contributions of working memory and executive functioning to problem representation and solution generation in algebraic word problems. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(2), 373-387. doi: 10.1037/a0013843

Keywords

  • Working memory
  • Algebra
  • Executive function
  • Reading comprehension
  • Word problems

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