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Self-belief increases mathematical problem solving

Is it the case that some people are naturally superior at solving mathematical problems than others? Or is it the case that factors such as beliefs about ability effect how well people do on the task? A recent study has found that there are important reasons, over and above ability, which determine how quickly and accurately people solve math problems. The study found that self-efficacy: confidence about solving math problems, influenced accuracy and speed of mathematical problem solving. The study also found that prompting students: directing them to reflect on previous experience or strategies used, benefited complex problem solving.

The study, published in this month edition of Contemporary Educational Psychology, recruited 81 University students. Researchers, Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu, assessed basic mathematic ability by how accurately people answered scores on a test.  Self-efficacy, for doing mental multiplication, was assed by asking people how well they thought they could solve 8 different multiplication problems in their head.

Students were then randomly assigned to one of two groups.  Both groups were asked to solve 42 multiplication problems in their head, as quickly and as accurately as possible.  One group was given prompts every fourth question with statements such as ?can the problem be solved in steps? or ?have you solved similar problems before? the other group did not receive any prompting.

What the researchers found was that, after controlling for mathematical ability, both self-efficacy and prompting had an effect on how accurately and quickly students solved problems.  Participants higher in self-efficacy were quicker and more accurate regardless of prompting, and so the authors say that prompting may be ineffective for those already high in self-efficacy.

This research adds to a body of literature which suggests that ability alone is not enough for mathematical success, and that there are many other variables, such as a person?s belief for example which can impact upon how well people do.  To access the article click here


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