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What Is a Working Memory Test?

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  • Written By: Helena Reimer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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A working memory test is a simple test that helps determine how effective the brain is in regard to information processing. The test is commonly administered to young children and adults who suffer from mental conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia, or who have suffered a stroke. During the working memory test, the individual is presented with a list of numbers, colors or words and then asked to recall as much of that information as possible. The more information that the individual is able to recall, the higher the intelligence of the individual.

Sometimes referred to as short-term memory, working memory is responsible for cognition, information storage and information recall. This area of the brain is developed during childhood and gradually increases into the adult years. According to studies, people who score well on a working memory test tend to do better at solving problems, learn faster and have a greater overall and social intelligence.

There are basically three parts of the brain that are responsible for information processing, and each part is responsible for a different type of information. The central executive area is responsible for the attention that is required for information storage and information recall. The visual-spatial sketch pad (VSSP) is responsible for storing and retrieving visual and spatial images, and the phonological loop (PL) helps with speech and remembering words and sentences.

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Visual images, shapes and colored squares on a grid can help test the VSSP, and a list of words or sentences can help to test the PL. A working memory test usually starts at a low level, where only a short list of names, numbers or blocks is given and then increased gradually to test how much the individual can recall. These tests are often programed into a computer to make it easy and convenient for anyone to take.

Neuroscience suggests that the brain is able to remember only a short list of about seven items. An effective brain, however, is able to sort those seven items into several groups and store them in two or three chunks, which then makes extra room for more information. In some cases, the brain might also be able to store the information in long-term memory and still retrieve it quickly when needed.

Studies have indicated that a working memory can be improved at any age, provided that the individual has the mind to engage in memory training. Mental exercises, such as memorizing names, grouping information into chunks and memory games can help stimulate and increase the memory. Individuals who are enthusiastic about their training also tend to do better on a working memory test than those who find it mundane.

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