Chess studies summary


by Dr. Robert C. Ferguson

During the 1995-1996 school year, two classrooms were selected in each of five schools. Students (N = 112) were given instruction in chess and reasoning in one classroom in each school. Pupils in the chess program obtained significantly higher reading scores at the end of the year. It should be noted that while students in the chess group took chess lessons, the control group (N = 127) had additional classroom instruction in basic education. The control group teacher was free to use the “chess period” any way he/she wanted, but the period was usually used for reading, math or social studies instruction. The control groups thus had more reading instruction than the chess groups. [Stuart Margulies, “The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores,” 1996]

In a 1994-97 Texas study, 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. [James Liptrap, “Chess and Standardized Test Scores,” Chess Coach Newsletter,  Spring 1999, Volume 11 (1), pp. 5 & 7]

“Playing Chess: A Study of Problem-Solving Skills in Students with Average and Above Average Intelligence,” a study by Philip Rifner, was conducted during the 1991-1992 school term. The study sought to determine whether middle school students who learned general problem solving skills in one domain could apply them in a different domain. Data indicated that inter-domain transfer can be achieved if teaching for transfer is an instructional goal.

A 1990-92 study using a sub-set of the New York City Schools Chess Program produced statistically significant results concluding that chess participation enhances reading performance. [Stuart Margulies, “The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess Program Second Year Report,” 1992 and Kathleen Vail, “Check This, Mate: Chess Moves Kids,” The American School Board Journal, September 1995, pp. 38-40]

A 1989-92 New Brunswick, Canada study, using 437 fifth graders split into three groups, experimenting with the addition of chess to the math curriculum, found increased gains in math problem-solving and comprehension proportionate to the amount of chess in the curriculum. [Louise Gaudreau, “tude Comparative sur les Apprentissages en Mathématiques 5e Année,” a study comparing the Challenging Mathematics curriculum to traditional math, 1992.]

During the 1987-88 “Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,” all students in a rural Pennsylvania sixth grade self-contained classroom were required to participate in chess lessons and play games. None of the pupils had previously played chess. The pupils significantly improved in both memory and verbal reasoning. The effect of the magnitude of the results is strong (eta 2 is .715 for the Memory test gain compared to the Norm). These results suggest that transfer of the skills fostered through the chess curriculum did occur. [Robert Ferguson, “Development of Reasoning and Memory through Chess,” 1988]

According to a two-year study conducted in Kishinev under the supervision of N.F. Talisina, grades for young students taking part in a chess experiment increased in all subjects. Teachers noted improvement in memory, better organizational skills, and for many increased fantasy and imagination [Education Ministry of the Moldavian Republic, 1985]

During his governor’s teacher grant from the New Jersey State Department of Education, William Levy found that chess consistently (1980-1987) promoted self-esteem after a year of exposure. Many students’ self-images improved dramatically. [William Levy, “Utilizing Chess to Promote Self-Esteem in Perceptually Impaired Students,” a governor’s teacher grant program through the New Jersey State Department of Education, 1987]

The 1979-1983 Venezuela “Learning to Think Project,” which trained 100,000 teachers to teach thinking skills and involved a sample of 4,266 second grade students, reached a general conclusion that chess, methodologically taught, is an incentive system sufficient to accelerate the increase of IQ in elementary age children of both sexes at all socio-economic levels. [Isaac Linder, “Chess, a Subject Taught at School,” Sputnik: Digest of the Soviet Press, June 1990, pp. 164-166 and Rafael Tudela, “Learning to Think Project,” Commission for Chess in Schools, 1984, Annex pp. 1-2.]

A four-year study (1979-1983) in Pennsylvania found that the chess-playing experimental group consistently outperformed the control groups engaged in other thinking development programs, using measurements from the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. [Robert Ferguson, “Teaching the Fourth R (Reasoning) through Chess,” School Mates, 1(1), 1983, p. 3.]

In a 1977-1979 study at the Chinese University in Hong Kong by Dr. Yee Wang Fung, chess players showed a 15% improvement in math and science test scores. [Donna Nurse, “Chess & Math Add Up,” Teach, May/June 1995, p. 15, cites Yee Wang Fung’s research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong]

In a 1974-1976 Belgium study, a chess-playing experimental group of fifth graders experienced a statistically significant gain in cognitive development over a control group, using Piaget’s tests for cognitive development. Perhaps more noteworthy, they also did significantly better in their regular school testing, as well as in standardized testing administered by an outside agency which did not know the identity of the two groups. Quoting Dr. Adriaan de Groot: …“In addition, the Belgium study appears to demonstrate that the treatment of the elementary, clear-cut and playful subject matter can have a positive effect on motivation and school achievement generally…” [Johan Christiaen, “Chess and Cognitive Development,” doctoral dissertation, 1976, Trans. Stanley Epstein]

In a 1973-74 Zaire study conducted by Dr. Albert Frank, employing 92 students, ages 16-18, the chess-playing experimental group showed a significant advancement in spatial, numerical and administrative-directional abilities, along with verbal aptitudes, compared to the control group. The improvements held true regardless of the final chess skill level attained. [Albert Frank, “Chess and Aptitudes,” doctoral dissertation, 1974, Trans. Stanley Epstein]