Understanding arithmetic concepts: the role of domain-specific and domain-general skills

A large body of research has identified cognitive skills associated with overall mathematics achievement, focusing primarily on identifying associates of procedural skills. Conceptual understanding, however, has received less attention, despite its importance for the development of mathematics proficiency. Consequently, we know little about the quantitative and domain-general skills associated with conceptual understanding. Here we investigated 8 – 10-year-old children’s conceptual understanding of arithmetic, as well as a wide range of basic quantitative skills, numerical representations and domain-general skills. We found that conceptual understanding was most strongly associated with performance on a number line task. This relationship was not explained by the use of particular strategies on the number line task, and may instead reflect children’s knowledge of the structure of the number system. Understanding the skills involved in conceptual learning is important to support efforts by educators to improve children’s conceptual understanding of mathematics.