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Practice Makes (Nearly) Perfect: Solving ‘Students-and-Professors’-Type Algebra Word Problems


Kiel Christianson, PhD, Associate Professor, Departments of Educational Psychology, Linguistics, Psychology, and Beckman Institute, Education Building, Rm. 226A, MC-708, University of Illinois, 1310 S. 6th St., Champaign, IL 61820, USA.



Three experiments with university students (Ns = 40, 36, and 36) who were non-math majors explicitly examined whether repetition in performing ‘students-and-professors’-type algebra word problems, which have been shown in the past to be vexingly difficult even for more advanced students, would spontaneously lead to higher rates of correct answers. Word order and situation model specificity were also examined to determine their effects on the rate of improvement. The strongest predictor of students producing correct equations (i.e., not producing the typical ‘reversal error’) was practice: In all experiments, participants spontaneously improved in equation accuracy almost to ceiling levels as they progressed, despite receiving no feedback. Tentative support is provided for the pedagogical value of repetition in solving problems, along with varying the wording of the problems. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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