Strategy and strategy change in the solution of three term series problems under instructions stressing accuracy over speed

Pearson, M. L. (1985). Strategy and strategy change in the solution of three term series problems under instructions stressing accuracy over speed. PhD thesis The Open University.



This research is concerned with the problem solving behaviour of subjects presented with problems of linesn ordering when accuracy has priority over speed. The three term series problems were systematically varied in both content (i.e. comparative term) and structure and the subject's solution time observed.

A consideration of subject variables of sex and culture (Trinidadian and British subjects) showed no consistent differences in the order of difficulty in the solution of the various problem structures, although Trinidadian women were significantly slower in the solution of all the problems and British women were significantly quicker in the solution of positive problems than the other groups. None of the groups showed a similar order of difficulty to that found in other researches and an analysis of individual subject data indicated that (a) there were marked individual differences in response patterns, and (b) subjects’ response data did not fit the predictions of the various models of problem solving suggested in other studies, (Experiment l).

When a direct comparison was made of subjects' performance under experimental conditions instructing accuracy over speed and instructing speed and accuracy a similar difference was observed to that between subjects in the first experiment and those in other term series, problem research (Supplementary experiment).

A further study of individual solution times which recorded subject protocols suggests individual patterns of response related to the number of repetitions of the ordering of the problem elements, based not on the relative complexity of problem structure, but the subject’s 'span of effort' when concentrating on total accuracy (Experiment II).

When the longer response times unrelated to complexity of problem structure were controlled, the remaining responses still showed individual variation and poor fit to the models of problem solving described previously. A model proposed as more economical offered an even poorer prediction of the data (Experiment III). There were indications, however, that the strategies involved in this model were used with the increasing experience of the problem solver (Experiment IV) and became a good predictor with more practice (Experiment V).

Emphasising accuracy as a priority over speed in experimental instruction appears to (a) result in individual variation in approach, allowing more freedom to try a variety of strategies, and (b) the eventual attainment of an economical, efficient strategy, associated with increased experience.

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