Explaining the acquisition of a complex skill: Methodological and theoretical considerations uncovered in the study of simple addition and the Moving-On Process

Sarah L. Hopkins, Michael J. Lawson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Research into the development of mathematical cognition has accelerated in recent times. In this literature review, findings from different approaches to studying simple addition performance are reviewed. A review of findings from studies incorporating observation, self-report or both revealed the complex process of change associated with developing retrieval strategies for simple addition. These findings are synthesized using a model of change labelled the Moving-On Process to represent the wave-like transitional pattern of strategy use preceding retrieval. A review of findings from studies based on the analysis of reaction times revealed a robust finding known as "the problem-size effect." Different explanations of the problem-size effect, incorporating different theoretical accounts of the nature of retrieval, exact answers, and strategy choice, are compared and contrasted. A review of findings based on a combination of both approaches uncovered important methodological considerations associated with analyzing reaction times and offers direction for future research aimed at unravelling the convoluted construct of automaticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-154
Number of pages34
JournalEducational Psychology Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002


  • Automaticity
  • Simple addition performance
  • Skill acquisition
  • Strategy identification

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