Cognitive Structures of Good and Poor Novice Problem Solvers in Physics

Ton de Jong, Monica G.M. Ferguson-Hessler

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The way knowledge is organized in memory is generally expected to relate to the degree of success in problem solving. In the present study, we investigated whether good novice problem solvers have their knowledge arranged around problem types to a greater extent than poor problem solvers have. In the subject of physics (electricity and magnetism), 12 problem types were distinguished according to their underlying physics principles. For each problem type, a set of elements of knowledge containing characteristics of the problem situation, declarative knowledge, and procedural knowledge was constructed. All of the resulting 65 elements were printed on cards, and first-year university students in physics ( N = 47) were asked to sort these cards into coherent piles shortly after they had taken an examination on electricity and magnetism. Essentially, good novice problem solvers sorted the cards according to problem types; the sorting by the poor problem solvers seemed to be determined to a greater extent by the surface characteristics of the elements. We concluded than an organization of knowledge around problem types might be highly conducive to good performance in problem solving by novice problem solvers.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)279-288
JournalJournal of educational psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1986


  • IR-50408

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