Calculation and word problem-solving skills in primary grades – Impact of cognitive abilities and longitudinal interrelations with task-persistent behaviour

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Primary school math skills form a basis for academic success down the road. Different math skills have different antecedents and there is a reason to believe that more complex math tasks require better self-regulation.


The study aimed to investigate longitudinal interrelations of calculation and problem-solving skills, and task-persistent behaviour in Grade 1 and Grade 3, and the effect of non-verbal intelligence, linguistic abilities, and executive functioning on math skills and task persistence.


Participants were 864 students (52.3% boys) from 33 different schools in Estonia.


Students were tested twice – at the end of Grade1 and at the end of Grade 3. Calculation and problem-solving skills, and teacher-rated task-persistent behaviour were measured at both time points. Non-verbal intelligence, linguistic abilities, and executive functioning were measured in Grade 1.


Cross-lagged structural equation modelling indicated that calculation skills depend on previous math skills and linguistic abilities, while problem-solving skills require also non-verbal intelligence, executive functioning, and task persistence. Task-persistent behaviour in Grade 3 was predicted by previous problem-solving skills, linguistic abilities, and executive functioning. Gender and mother's educational level were added as covariates.


The findings indicate that math skills and self-regulation are strongly related in primary grades and that solving complex tasks requires executive functioning and task persistence from children. Findings support the idea that instructional practices might benefit from supporting self-regulation in order to gain domain-specific, complex skill achievement.

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