Questioning the Order of Operations

  • Questioning the Order of Operations

    Kami M. Dupree
    Abandon mnemonics and make stronger connections between the operations and properties of arithmetic.
    For decades, students have been encouraged to Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally as a means of learning the order of operations. Teachers unfamiliar with the Aunt Sally mnemonic are perhaps more familiar with a mnemonic such as PEMDAS. Each mnemonic is intended to convey “parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.” Although many students accurately recall these intended references, some authors have suggested that mnemonics fail to guard against incorrect calculations (e.g., Ameis 2011; Jeon 2012; Wu 2004). Indeed, even some prospective teachers fail to correctly apply the order of operations (Glidden 2008; Jeon 2012) when relying on mnemonics.