The development of reasoning skills during compulsory 16 to 18 mathematics education

The belief that studying mathematics improves reasoning skills, known as the Theory of Formal Discipline (TFD), has been held since the time of Plato. Research evidence supports this idea, at least in the context of students who had chosen to study post-compulsory mathematics. Here we examined the development of reasoning skills in 16- to 18-year-old Cypriot students, who are required to study mathematics until age 18. One hundred and eighty-eight students, studying high- or low-intensity mathematics, completed the abstract Conditional Inference Task and the contextual Belief Bias Syllogisms task at ages 16, 17 and 18. While the high-intensity group improved on the conditional inference task and showed a reduction in belief bias, the low-intensity group did not change on either measure. This is promising for the TFD, but suggests that a certain level of mathematical study may be necessary for students' general reasoning skills to develop.

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CC BY-NC-ND 4.0