TY - JOUR

T1 - Different complex word problems require different combinations of cognitive skills

AU - Strohmaier, Anselm R.

AU - Reinhold, Frank

AU - Hofer, Sarah

AU - Berkowitz, Michal

AU - Vogel-Heuser, Birgit

AU - Reiss, Kristina

N1 - Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

PY - 2022/1

Y1 - 2022/1

N2 - Mathematical word problem solving is influenced by various characteristics of the task and the person solving it. Yet, previous research has rarely related these characteristics to holistically answer which word problem requires which set of individual cognitive skills. In the present study, we conducted a secondary data analysis on a dataset of N = 1282 undergraduate students solving six mathematical word problems from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Previous results had indicated substantial variability in the contribution of individual cognitive skills to the correct solution of the different tasks. Here, we exploratively reanalyzed the data to investigate which task characteristics may account for this variability, considering verbal, arithmetic, spatial, and general reasoning skills simultaneously. Results indicate that verbal skills were the most consistent predictor of successful word problem solving in these tasks, arithmetic skills only predicted the correct solution of word problems containing calculations, spatial skills predicted solution rates in the presence of a visual representation, and general reasoning skills were more relevant in simpler problems that could be easily solved using heuristics. We discuss possible implications, emphasizing how word problems may differ with regard to the cognitive skills required to solve them correctly.

AB - Mathematical word problem solving is influenced by various characteristics of the task and the person solving it. Yet, previous research has rarely related these characteristics to holistically answer which word problem requires which set of individual cognitive skills. In the present study, we conducted a secondary data analysis on a dataset of N = 1282 undergraduate students solving six mathematical word problems from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Previous results had indicated substantial variability in the contribution of individual cognitive skills to the correct solution of the different tasks. Here, we exploratively reanalyzed the data to investigate which task characteristics may account for this variability, considering verbal, arithmetic, spatial, and general reasoning skills simultaneously. Results indicate that verbal skills were the most consistent predictor of successful word problem solving in these tasks, arithmetic skills only predicted the correct solution of word problems containing calculations, spatial skills predicted solution rates in the presence of a visual representation, and general reasoning skills were more relevant in simpler problems that could be easily solved using heuristics. We discuss possible implications, emphasizing how word problems may differ with regard to the cognitive skills required to solve them correctly.

KW - Arithmetic skills

KW - General reasoning skills

KW - Spatial skills

KW - Verbal skills

KW - Word problems

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85109313452&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1007/s10649-021-10079-4

DO - 10.1007/s10649-021-10079-4

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:85109313452

SN - 0013-1954

VL - 109

SP - 89

EP - 114

JO - Educational Studies in Mathematics

JF - Educational Studies in Mathematics

IS - 1

ER -