High school students who struggle on college-readiness tests solve the simplest arithmetic problems as quickly as higher-achieving students, but they use very different brain processes to do so, according to new research.
For a study published in the January issue of Journal of Neuroscience, researchers asked 43 high school seniors to perform single-digit arithmetic while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging and compared the results with students’ Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test scores.
Students who performed well on the math section of the PSAT showed more activity in brain areas linked to memory of math facts. Those with lower math PSAT scores had less brain activity in those areas and more in areas associated with processing number quantities.
The findings suggest that the high-achieving students knew the answers by memory, while lower-performing students were calculating even low-level problems.
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2013 edition of Education Week as Neuroscience of Math