Solving Arithmetic Word Problems: Role of Reading and Computational Skills

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Investigated how children cope with some of the demands imposed on them by arithmetic word problems by administering problems modeled after those used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress to 200 6th-graders. A computational demand was imposed on the Ss by adding extraneous information to the problems, whereas a reading demand was imposed on them by increasing the syntactic complexity of the problems. Multiple regression analyses indicated that the Ss' computational ability and reading ability together accounted for 54% of the variance in solution accuracy: Eight and 14%, respectively, of this variance was unique, whereas 32% was common to the abilities. In addition, the analyses indicated that the presence of extraneous information in the problems reduced the accuracy of Ss' solutions. The use of complex syntax had no significant effect on accuracy. The findings suggest that reading ability and computational ability both play important roles in children's successful solution of word problems. The findings also suggest that the presence of extraneous information in word problems can impose a formidable demand on children's limited processing capacities.