60-Second Science

Find X and Say Your Work

A study in the Electronic Journal of Research In Educational Psychology found that students who worked out math problems out loud got more accurate results, and faster. Karen Hopkin reports

Did you ever sit down to take a test and discover that the person next to you mumbles his way through the whole thing. You probably thought, “What kind of doofus can’t add a few numbers without moving his mouth?” Turns out the answer may be: a very clever doofus. Because a study published in the Electronic Journal of Research In Educational Psychology suggests that students who think out loud while taking a math test are more likely to get the right answer.

Counting things out on fingers is a time-honored tradition. But this study looked at what happens when students bring their lips in on the action.

A handful of mathematics students were ushered into separate rooms and given some problems to solve. The researchers videotaped their efforts and graded their exams. And they found that the students who reasoned through their thinking out loud, or who drew out pictures that represented the problem,were able to answer the questions more quickly—and more accurately—than students who were quiet and didn’t doodle.

How these sketches and monologues can help with your calculations remains a statement waiting for a proof. Until then, remember: sound it out; show your work; and when you run out of fingers, you can always count on your toes.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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