Understanding mathematics: Some key factors

Asma Amanat Ali, Norman Reid

APA 6th edition
Ali, A.A., & Reid, N. (2012). Understanding mathematics: Some key factors. European Journal of Educational Research, 1(3), 283-299. doi:10.12973/eu-jer.1.3.283

Ali A.A., and Reid N. 2012 'Understanding mathematics: Some key factors', European Journal of Educational Research , vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 283-299. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.12973/eu-jer.1.3.283

Chicago 16th edition
Ali, Asma Amanat and Reid, Norman . "Understanding mathematics: Some key factors". (2012)European Journal of Educational Research 1, no. 3(2012): 283-299. doi:10.12973/eu-jer.1.3.283


Mathematics is well known as a subject area where there can be problems in terms of understanding as well as retaining positive attitudes. In a large study involving 813 school students (ages approximately 10-12) drawn from two different school systems in Pakistan, the effect of limited working memory capacity on performance in mathematics was explored along with a survey of areas of difficulty and student attitudes. This involved looking at student perceptions of their experiences, the nature of the difficulties they have with mathematics and possible reasons for these difficulties. The overall aim is to explore the extent of the effect of working memory and to gain insights so that practical ways forward to enhance mathematics education can be identified. It was found that limited working memory capacity has a very strong influence on performance, confirming other studies. Indeed, if the cognitive load exceeds the capacity of working memory, understanding becomes a casualty, with consequent attitude deterioration. Students need to be able to see that mathematics has a purpose in being able to be applied to real-life situations. However, attempts to develop applications may often generate further working memory overload.

Keywords: Working memory capacity, attitudes to mathematics, difficulties in mathematics, cognitive overload