What Is a Short Term Memory Test?

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  • Written By: Melissa Barrett
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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A short term memory test is any screening designed to measure an individual’s ability to store and retrieve information for a short period of time. These tests are most commonly used in medical settings to diagnose or determine the extent of memory dysfunction in patients. More recently, however, businesses have developed similar tests for applicant screenings. Versions of these tests, along with personality and IQ tests, are also available for entertainment purposes on many websites.

When a patient is presenting with possible memory dysfunction, the attending physician may perform an informal short term memory test by asking the patient to remember a series of numbers or letters for a brief period of time. This type of test is also frequently used by emergency medical professionals to quickly assess the possibility of brain injury in trauma victims. Other brief screenings that include short term memory functions include the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the abbreviated mental test score (AMTS). It should be noted that, while these tests may show a problem, they should not be used as the sole basis for any diagnosis.

More formalized assessments frequently combine a short term memory test with other assessments and are generally chosen to address the suspected cause of the memory loss. The Autobiographical Memory Interview (AMI), for example, is particularly useful in conditions such as Alzheimer’s or age-related dementia. This test assesses both short and long term memory by using questions about a patient’s own past experiences.


Another evaluation, the Benton Visual Retention Test, is a short term memory test that measures retention of visual objects. In this test, an individual is shown a series of 10 simple images then asked to draw the pictures from memory. The Benton test is most useful in patients with brain injuries or those with additional language barriers. It is also used to test the visual memory of children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

In business, a good memory is often considered to be a core competency. In particular, individuals who can remember lists or numbers reliably are often sought by companies specifically to fill data entry and secretarial positions. As such, it is not uncommon for an employer to administer a short term memory test to applicants for these jobs. Still other corporations find the trait so essential that it is included in the psychometric testing of all potential employees.

Memory tests are also wildly popular in the online community. Frequently, the results of these tests are easily linked to social networking sites and are designed to be competitive. The results from an online short term memory test should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of the time, these tests are for entertainment purposes only and are not reliable indicators of actual memory functioning.


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