Semantic memory serves to remember facts, such as memorized arithmetic data (for example, this study examined whether measures of short-term memory, working memory and executive functioning in preschool children predict the subsequent dominance of academic performance at 7 years of age (third year of elementary school). Children were evaluated at preschool age (M, 3% of age, 4 years and 6 months) using a series of cognitive measures, and results in mathematics and reading (based on standardized, standards-based school assessments) were assessed upon entering elementary school and at the end of the first and third years of elementary school. Growth curve analyses examined predictors of performance in mathematics and reading throughout the study and revealed that a better ability to understand digits and executive functions provided children with an immediate advantage in mathematics and reading, which they maintained during the first three years of elementary school. Short-term visual-spatial memory was found to be a specific predictor of mathematical ability.

Correlational and regression analyses revealed that visual short-term memory and working memory specifically predict mathematical performance at each moment, while executive function skills predicted learning in general and not learning in a specific domain. The implications of the findings in relation to a better understanding of the role of cognitive abilities in different mathematical tasks and in relation to the impact of limited cognitive abilities in the classroom environment are discussed. This animation and blog article explore the cognitive science of learning mathematics and explain how different types of memory are involved, why speed matters, and how practice is key to developing mathematical fluency.