This study investigated the mathematical behavior of graduate students and the experiences that contributed to their mathematical development and success. Their problem-solving behavior was observed while completing complex mathematical tasks, and their beliefs were assessed by administering a written survey. These graduate students report that a mentor, most frequently a high school teacher, facilitated the development of their problem solving abilities and continued mathematical study. The mentors were described as individuals who provided challenging problems, encouragement, and assistance in learning how to approach complex problems. When confronted with an unfamiliar task, these graduate students exhibited exceptional persistence and high confidence. Their initial problem solving attempts were frequently to classify the problem as one of a familiar type, and they were not always effective in accessing recently taught information or monitoring their solution attempts, but were careful to offer only solutions that had a logical foundation. These results provide numerous insights into the complexities of using and extending one's mathematical knowledge and suggest that non-cognitive factors play a prominent role in a student's mathematical success.
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