Strategic flexibility in computational estimation for Chinese-and Canadian-educated adults

Chang Xu*, Emma Wells, Jo-Anne LeFevre, Ineke Imbo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of the present study was to examine factors that influence strategic flexibility in computational estimation for Chinese-and Canadian-educated adults. Strategic flexibility was operationalized as the percentage of trials on which participants chose the problem-based procedure that best balanced proximity to the correct answer with simplification of the required calculation. For example, on 42 × 57, the optimal problem-based solution is 40 × 60 because 2,400 is closer to the exact answer 2,394 than is 40 × 50 or 50 × 60. In Experiment 1 (n = 50), where participants had free choice of estimation procedures, Chinese-educated participants were more likely to choose the optimal problem-based procedure (80% of trials) than Canadian-educated participants (50%). In Experiment 2 (n = 48), participants had to choose 1 of 3 solution procedures. They showed moderate strategic flexibility that was equal across groups (60%). In Experiment 3 (n = 50), participants were given the same 3 procedure choices as in Experiment 2 but different instructions and explicit feedback. When instructed to respond quickly, both groups showed moderate strategic flexibility as in Experiment 2 (60%). When instructed to respond as accurately as possible or to balance speed and accuracy, they showed very high strategic flexibility (greater than 90%). These findings suggest that solvers will show very different levels of strategic flexibility in response to instructions, feedback, and problem characteristics and that these factors interact with individual differences (e.g., arithmetic skills, nationality) to produce variable response patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1481-1497
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Psychological Association.


  • Estimation
  • Individual differences
  • Strategic flexibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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