We investigated whether, and in what, ways people use visual structures to evaluate mathematical expressions. We also explored the relationship between strategy use and other common measures in mathematics education. Participants organized long sum/products when visual structure was available in algebraic expressions. Two experiments showed a similar pattern: One group of participants primarily calculated from left to right, or combined identical numbers together. A second group calculated adjacent pairs. A third group tended to group terms which either produced easy sums (e.g., 6+4), or participated in a global structure. These different strategies were associated with different levels of success on the task, and, in Experiment 2, with differential math anxiety and mathematical skill. Specifically, problem solvers with lower math anxiety and higher math ability tend to group by chunks and easy calculation. These results identify an important role for the perception of coherent structure and pattern identification in mathematical reasoning.

# Visual flexibility in arithmetic expressions

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