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Approaches used by science disciplines when solving open-ended problems and their links to cognitive factors

Randles, Christopher Andrew


Christopher Andrew Randles


Tina Overton

David, 1960 Sands

Philip J. King


Solving problems is a key skill required for developing academic success and is desirable to graduate employers across a wide variety of industries and, as such, needs to be valued by both educators and learners. This thesis describes the investigation into what approaches are used by different science disciplines when solving open-ended problems and how these relate to an individuals ability to process information (M-capacity) and their ability to dis-embed information (field independence).

Qualitative data was collected through think aloud sessions with first year undergraduate students in six science disciplines in order to identify the approaches they used. Further data was collected from chemistry academics, industrialists and postgraduate students and academic groups. The qualitative data was analysed using a grounded theory approach.

Quantitative data were collected from science participants in six disciplines to investigate relationships between approaches used and Mcapacity and field independence. Data was collected using the Figural Intersection Test (FIT) and the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT).

The results showed that there were eight discrete approaches used when solving open-ended problems. A hierarchy of success at solving open-ended problems emerged from different science disciplines through two separate foci. The first is that physical sciences students have the greatest success at solving open-ended problems and psychology participants having the least success. The second foci is that chemistry academic staff have more success than industrialist participants who in turn have more success than undergraduate students. These hierarchies have been attributed to the amount of evaluation used and the effective use of mathematics.

The quantitative data identified correlations between M-capacity and success at solving open-ended problems, and between field independence and approaches used.

The implications of the findings are discussed and recommendations for further work are identified.


Randles, C. A. (2015). Approaches used by science disciplines when solving open-ended problems and their links to cognitive factors. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 7, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Chemistry
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Chemistry, The University of Hull
Award Date Dec 1, 2015


Thesis (7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2015 Randles, Christopher Andrew. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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