Secondary school students’ errors and misconceptions in learning algebra

Zakaria Ndemo, Osten Ndemo


The aim of the study is to develop an understanding of the kinds and sources errors and misconceptions that characterise students’ learning of school algebra. Systematic random sampling was used to draw sixty-five participants from a population of two hundred and twenty-three form three students. A cross sectional survey design was employed to collect data using written tests, a structured questionnaire and interviewing of the students from one high school in Zimbabwe. Content analysis technique was applied to textual data from three sources in order to determine the types of errors and misconceptions. The main findings are that both procedural and conceptual errors were prevalent that errors and misconceptions can be explained in terms of the students’ limited understanding of the nature of algebra; in particular their fragile grasp of the notion of a variable. Sources of misconceptions could be explained in terms of the abstract nature of algebra Mathematics educators should embrace errors and misconceptions in their teaching and should not regard them as obstacles to learning but rather engage with them for better understanding of algebraic concepts by students. Future studies can be carried on systematic errors as one of the ways of improving students’ understanding school mathematics.


secondary students, misconceptions, errors,

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