Solving Academic Problems by Dr. Robert Ferguson (Part I)

Chess 2004 - Artist Filatov Dmitry


I started a series on Chess in Education in August 2007. Series I started with an article written by Dr. Robert Ferguson, and can be found in our blog archives for August of 2007.

I am proud to post yet another article/paper written by Dr. Ferguson as he has been kind enough to share his work.

Due to the length of Series II , it will be broken up into parts.  Part II will be posted tomorrow, so check back for the continuation of this fantastic and informative paper!

Once a Series is complete, the entire article/paper will be archived in our Chess Articles Section for future reference.

Thank you, Dr. Ferguson, for sharing your work, and, your commitment to chess in education!


This paper focuses primarily on declining academic achievement (especially math and reading scores) along with self-esteem and thinking skills and the positive impact of chess.

Research shows that schools in the USA lag seriously behind those in the rest of the world in both math and reading.

As a matter of fact, 63% of our high school graduates cannot read at a twelfth grade level.

The United States now ranks 49th internationally in literacy, and only two countries (Cyprus and South Africa) finished behind the USA in basic math.

This report highlights the educational benefits of implementing chess in the schools.

Many of the top-scoring schools in international studies appear to have a common denominator: chess as part of the curricula.

What problems confront our schools? Is there a simple cost-effective solution?

There are many problems facing our nations educational system, and research points to an effective solution.

Four of these major problem areas are:

1. Self-esteem – One-fifth of all 8th graders in the U.S. are considered to be at high risk of school failure. Approximately 30% of our youth drop out and fail to complete high school.

2. Math – In mathematics, U.S. twelfth graders perform above only two (Cyprus and South Africa) of the TIMSS countries. In advanced math, U.S. students performed better than only one country. Eighth graders did better but still finished in 28th place.

3. Reading – The USA ranks 49th internationally in literacy. Only 37% of high school graduates read at a twelfth grade level. 35% of college freshman take remedial courses.

4. Thinking skills – Recent research indicates that one of the most neglected areas in todays educational system is instruction aimed at developing logical reasoning and critical thinking.

We are looking for kids who think, said Jon Reider, senior director of admissions at Stanford.
(Insight on the News, 1998) Many academicians around the world have completed years of research and arrived at the same conclusion: chess enhances minds and inspires lives. The quantity of research over the past three decades speaks for itself.


Chess Math Equations

In a 1977-1978 study (Nurse, 1995) at the Chinese University in Hong Kong by Yee Wang Fung, chess players showed a 15% improvement in math and science test scores.

This study was noted at the 1995 Chess in Education: A Wise Move Conference but was not available, presumably because it had not translated.

Results showed (Langen, 1995) statistically significant improvement in math and science scores after just one year of chess exposure.

Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathmatiques by Louise Gaudreau (30 June 1992) has recently been translated and offers some of the most exciting news yet about chess in education.

The study took place in the province of New Brunswick from July 1989 through June of 1992. Three groups totaling 437 fifth graders were tested in this research.

  • The control group (Group A) received the traditional math course throughout the study.
  • Group B received a traditional math curriculum in first grade and thereafter an enriched program with chess and problem solving instruction.
  • The third group (Group C) received the chess enriched math curriculum beginning in the first grade.

There were no significant differences among the groups as far as basic calculations on the standardized test; however, there were statistically significant differences for Group B and C in the problem solving portion of the test (21.46% difference in favor of Group C over the Control Group) and on the comprehension section (12.02% difference in favor of Group C over the Control Group).

In addition, Group Cs problem solving scores increased from an average 62% to 81.2%!

Not only is this statistically significant, but also the addition of chess to the math curriculum has rendered scholastic chess wildly popular in New Brunswick.

With the inclusion of chess in math, a provincial grade school chess championship was established.

In 1989, 120 pupils participated.  By 1992, 19,290–yes, 19,290!! pupils competed.

Michel Lyons, the author of the math textbook integrating chess into the curriculum, is a mathematician and not a chessplayer. He felt that the success noted by inclusion of chess lay in its ability to exemplify and manifest the heuristic learning principle. Lyons commented that chess is unique in this respect because it is a well-defined game, and children like games (Langen, 1995).

In December 1996, Arman Tajarobi wrote for the past three years, I’ve been a witness to an experiment held in 24 elementary schools in my town. The school board allowed these schools to replace an hour of math classes by a chess course each week for half of their students. For three consecutive years, the groups receiving the chess formation have had better results in maths than those who did not. This year (the fourth year), the school board has allowed any school that wants to provide its students with a chess formation to do so.(NAESPs Principal OnLine Forum Archive)

In Texas, James Liptrap coordinated another research project demonstrating the impact of chess upon math.
In his 1994-97 study (Liptrap, 1998), regular (non-honors) elementary students who participated in a school chess club showed twice the improvement of non-chess players in Reading and Mathematics between third and fifth grades on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

In fifth grade, regular-track chessplayers scored 4.3 TLI points higher in reading (p<.01) and 6.4 points higher in math (p<.00001) than non-chessplayers.

The purpose of this study was to document the effect of participation in a chess club upon the standardized test scores of elementary school students.

The study was conducted in four of the elementary schools in a large suburban school district near Houston, Texas.
It compared the third grade and fifth grade scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) of students who participated in a school chess club in fourth and/or fifth grade with the scores of students who did not participate in a chess club.

Significant improvement in math and reading scores were found among the regular track chess students.

A 1998 study conducted by James Smith and Robert Cage, The Effects of Chess Instruction on the Mathematics Achievement of Southern, Rural, Black Secondary Students, found significant gains in the chess group.

The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of 120 hours of chess instruction on the mathematics achievement of southern, rural, Black, secondary students.

Instruments used were the mathematics section of the California Achievement Test (CAT) (Level 20), Witkins’s Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT), the Guilford-Zimmerman Spatial Visualization Test (SV), and Naglieri’s Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT).

A 2 X 2 analysis of variance of the pre-tests found no significant differences in the scores of the treatment group (11 females, 9 males) and the control group (10 females, 10 males) by group or gender.

However, a 2 X 2 ANCOVA of the post-test results found a statistically significant difference in the scores. The means of the group receiving chess instruction were significantly higher than the control group means on the CAT; GEFT; SV; and the NNAT.

Statistically significant correlations were also found between all instruments on the pre-test scores.

In the 2006-07 research study by the Chess Academy Math Tutoring Program, John P. Buky reported that after just 60 hours of math tutoring, the 119 students participating demonstrated an average gain of 19% on a standardized mathematics test. Of the 119 students in the experimental group, 104 showed growth.

Students in grades 1 through 8 participated in the study; however, the study appeared to help students in grades 1-6 the most. Only one seventh grade student demonstrated any gain in the post-test; this is probably due to the small number of seventh graders participating. The two-tailed P value is less than 0.0001, which means this difference is considered to be extremely statistically significant.

The source for this study is found here – The Chess Academy.

Reports from students, teachers, and parents not only extol the academic benefits of chess on math problem solving skills and reading comprehension, but also report increased self-confidence, patience, memory, logic, critical thinking, observation, analysis, creativity, concentration, persistence, self-control, sportsmanship, responsibility, respect for others, self esteem, coping with frustration, and many other positive influences which are difficult to measure but can make a great difference in student attitude, motivation, and achievement.

Additional studies, e.g. the Chess-in-the-Schools program in NYC noted gains as high as 18.6% in math in a single year. Dr. Frank also noted improvement in numerical ability.

Both of these studies will be discussed in other sections based upon the primary hypotheses of the respective researchers.

Todd Romiens, President of the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education, believes that part of the success in math noted in the New Brunswick study and others is due to the fact that chess fosters a math environment, a real life situation that stimulates math activity.

Romiens stated, The environment, whether a kitchen, a chess game, or the flooding Nile, should possess the double integrity of being concrete (supplying a relevant, touchable field of activity) and dynamic (actively posing problems). (Langen, 1995)

Chess is particularly appropriate, according to Romiens, because it is well-defined, rich in problems, culturally extended, and compact.

This concludes Part I of this series. Stay tuned as we move on to Part II of this impressive and informative article tomorrow!

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