Age and Individual Differences in Mathematical Abilities: From Kindergarten to Secondary Schools

Project Number
OER 49/08 KL

Project Duration
April 2009 - September 2013


In the last decade, a number of studies have examined the relationships between working memory, executive functioning, and academic achievement (Bull, Johnston, & Roy, 1999; Bull & Scerif, 2001; Gathercole, Pickering, Knight, & Stegmann, 2004). Our previous work showed that working memory accounted for a quarter of the variance in individual differences amongst 10 year olds (Lee, Ng, Ng, & Lim, 2004). Furthermore, some components of mathematical problem solving were found to be more working memory intensive than others. Specifically, children's ability to discern the quantitative relationships amongst protagonists in a story problem was both highly predictive of success and closely related to their working memory capacity (Lee, Ng, & Ng, in press). Because previous studies have focused on mathematical performance in a narrow age range, several important questions regarding its long-term development cannot be answered. For example, although previous findings suggest that working memory intervention will likely improve mathematics performance, more information is needed on the kind of mathematics skills that will likely benefit. As this information is age dependent, more information is also needed on the developmental time course of both working memory and mathematical skills. This information will allow us to develop a more precise schedule for intervention delivery. In the proposed study, we will continue our on-going efforts to track the development of children's working memory, executive functions, and mathematical skills. We will also examine the extent to which the development of algebraic skills in primary and secondary schools are dependent on earlier competencies. Findings from this study will help curriculum developers and mathematics educators enhance the existing mathematics curriculum, in particular, in smoothing students' transition from arithmetic to algebra. The proposed study is part of a five year longitudinal study. An earlier application covering the whole longitudinal sequence was approved. However, due to financial constraints, funding was granted on an annual renewal basis. The current application covers the remaining years of the longitudinal study. In addition, we have proposed two supplementary studies that address issues arising from our existing findings. One of the studies will trial working memory based intervention with children enrolled in Learning Support Programmes. The other supplementary study examines the relationship between test anxiety, working memory, and test performance.

Research Themes
Applied Cognitive Development & Motivational Studies

Funding Source

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