Nonsymbolic and symbolic magnitude comparison skills as longitudinal predictors of mathematical achievement

Iro Xenidou-Dervou*, Dylan Molenaar, Daniel Ansari, Menno van der Schoot, Ernest C. D. M. van Lieshout

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


What developmental roles do nonsymbolic (e.g., dot arrays) and symbolic (i.e., Arabic numerals) magnitude comparison skills play in children's mathematics? We assessed a large sample in kindergarten, grade 1 and 2 on two well-known nonsymbolic and symbolic magnitude comparison measures. We also assessed children's initial IQ and developing Working Memory (WM) capacities. Results demonstrated that symbolic and nonsymbolic comparison had different developmental trajectories; the first underwent larger developmental improvements. Both skills were longitudinal predictors of children's future mathematical achievement above and beyond IQ and WM. Nonsymbolic comparison was moderately predictive only in kindergarten. Symbolic comparison, however, was a robust and consistent predictor of future mathematics across all three years. It was a stronger predictor compared to nonsymbolic, and its predictive power at the early stages was even comparable to that of IQ. Furthermore, the present results raise several methodological implications regarding the role of different types of magnitude comparison measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalLearning and Instruction
Early online date28 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Approximate number system
  • Cognitive development
  • Mathematical cognition
  • Nonsymbolic magnitude comparison
  • Symbolic magnitude comparison


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