The contributions of working memory and executive functioning to problem representation and solution generation in algebraic word problems.
Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol 101(2), May 2009, 373-387.
Lee, Kerry; Ng, Ee Lynn; Ng, Swee Fong
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.