The Relationship Between Children’s Approximate Number Certainty and Symbolic Mathematics

Carolyn Baer, Darko Odic


Why do some children excel in mathematics while others struggle? A large body of work has shown positive correlations between children’s Approximate Number System (ANS) and school-taught symbolic mathematical skills, but the mechanism explaining this link remains unknown. One potential mediator of this relationship might be children’s numerical metacognition: children’s ability to evaluate how sure or unsure they are in understanding and manipulating numbers. While previous work has shown that children’s math abilities are uniquely predicted by symbolic numerical metacognition, we focus on the extent to which children’s non-symbolic/ANS numerical metacognition, in particular sensitivity to certainty, might be predictive of math ability, and might mediate the relationship between the ANS and symbolic math. A total of 72 children aged 4–6 years completed measures of ANS precision, ANS metacognition sensitivity, and the Test of Early Mathematical Ability (TEMA-3). Our results replicate many established findings in the literature, including the correlation between ANS precision and the TEMA-3, particularly on the Informal subtype questions. However, we did not find that ANS metacognition sensitivity was related to TEMA-3 performance, nor that it mediated the relationship between the ANS and the TEMA-3. These findings suggest either that metacognitive calibration may play a larger role than metacognitive sensitivity, or that metacognitive differences in the non-symbolic number perception do not robustly contribute to symbolic math performance.


number sense; symbolic mathematics; certainty; metacognition

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