Characterizing Reading Comprehension of Mathematical Texts

  • Magnus Österholm


This study compares reading comprehension of three different texts: two mathematical texts and one historical text. The two mathematical texts both present basic concepts of group theory, but one does it using mathematical symbols and the other only uses natural language. A total of 95 upper secondary and university students read one of the mathematical texts and the historical text. Before reading the texts, a test of prior knowledge for both mathematics and history was given and after reading each text, a test of reading comprehension was given. The results reveal a similarity in reading comprehension between the mathematical text without symbols and the historical text, and also a difference in reading comprehension between the two mathematical texts. This result suggests that mathematics in itself is not the most dominant aspect affecting the reading comprehension process, but the use of symbols in the text is a more relevant factor. Although the university students had studied more mathematics courses than the upper secondary students, there was only a small and insignificant difference between these groups regarding reading comprehension of the mathematical text with symbols. This finding suggests that there is a need for more explicit teaching of reading comprehension for texts including symbols.


literacy mathematical texts mental representation reading comprehension symbols university upper secondary level 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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