Your working memory is where you store recent information like names, telephone numbers and directions. It’s also called your short term memory, and research shows that specific training of this cognitive function can lead to gains in your fluid intelligence (your ability to reason and problem solve).
Have you ever gone grocery shopping without bothering to write a list because you figure you’ll remember everything? Naturally, you forget one or two items and don’t realize until you arrive at home. This highlights the limitations of working memory — the ability to process and manipulate information.
It’s thought that working memory can hold four to five elements of new information at a time. But what exactly is working memory? And how does it work? We’ll be reviewing these questions, as well as 10 free resources to test your working memory.
What is Working Memory?
Working memory is a cognitive system that enables us to temporarily hold and process information. In the past, working memory was known as short-term memory. However, it’s been redefined to showcase the impact on functionality instead of duration. Some experts choose to differentiate between the two terms. They speak of working memory as the storage and manipulation of information and short-term memory as the temporary, brief storage of information.
As one of the most widely-used terms in the field of psychology, working memory has often been related to information processing. It also linked to comprehension, intelligence, problem-solving, and executive function in humans and animals of all ages. Essentially, working memory enables us to store and manage information for the purpose of learning, reasoning, and making sense of the world around us.
How Does Working Memory Work?
There are many theories surrounding the way working memory works. Alan Baddeley, a research psychologist, developed a theory wherein working memory can be viewed as a multi-store system with several “containers” in the brain. First and foremost, the phonological loop is an area that contains the speech and other auditory-based information. The next container is the visuospatial sketchpad, which is an area that holds visual information. These two areas are subordinate to the central executive — an area that drives the working memory system.
In this sense, the central executive controls the manipulation and allocation of any information to and from the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad. As this theory was updated, the episodic buffer was added to the equation; acting as a temporary interface between the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad. There have been many other theories that suggest how working memory works, but this is one of the most influential theories to date.
The Importance of Working Memory
As you can imagine, the ability to retain thoughts and ideas can come in handy throughout your personal and professional life. Working memory plays a huge role in many areas, including but not limited to:
- The ability to pay attention: The ability to pay attention, whether you’re in school or at work, requires you to process and retain information. In fact, those with ADHD are 4 times more likely to have problems with working memory. Studies have shown that those with ADHD have verbal and spatial impairments in working memory.
- The ability to learn to read: Working memory is responsible for many of the skills associated with learning to read. The auditory aspect of working memory allows you to remember the sounds the letters make while the visual aspect of working memory allows you to remember what words look like.
- The ability to think logically: Those who have a strong working memory tend to be more focused and logical in academic settings. This is because they’re capable of remembering instructions, focusing on task goals, and ultimately, working more independently to solve problems.
A strong working memory can help you throughout almost every aspect of life. Which is why it’s important to test your working memory, and when possible, strengthen it.
Test Working Memory for Free with These Resources
If you find your working memory isn’t as strong as you’d like, you can always do various games and challenges to strengthen it! Here are 10 of the best free resources to test your working memory.
Test Working Memory at Memrise
This is a great free test that’s quite simple to use. It’s basically flashcards in the form of games that are designed to help build your vocabulary. If you can remember them, your working memory is strong. If you can’t, you have some work to do. There’s also a speed review which makes the app even more fun.
Free Working Memory Test at University of Washington
This is a simple short-term memory test wherein you’re shown a few letters, then asked to write down the letters you remember. This determines how many items you can process and recall at a time.
Test Working Memory Capacity at Test My Brain
In this test, you’re shown various questions to determine your ability to remember. For instance, a grid pops up with items on some quadrants. You’re asked to remember the items and where they were located.
Test Your Working Memory at MemTrax
Designed by a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, this test is very accurate at determining your memory as you’re shown a series of images, then asked to identify any repeat images. Your timing is recorded for greater accuracy.
Working Memory Test at CogniFit
This test reviews your cognitive capabilities, including working memory, to determine what areas you require improvement. There are a series of short tests that focus on different capabilities, such as your response time or focused attention.
Test Working Memory at Psychologist World
This short-term memory test simply asks you to look at a series of words, and on the next screen, write down the words you recall from the previous screen. Essentially, it tests your memory by seeing how many you can remember.
Test Your Working Memory at ADDITUDE
This test actually asks you to reflect on your own working memory with a range of questions about your abilities to remember in a range of scenarios. Although this test depends on your honesty, it’s a great test to learn more about yourself.
Test Your Working Memory at Brain Connection
This test focuses on the verbal span portion of working memory — asking you to recall 15 words displayed one at a time for one second each word. It’s a great way to determine your working memory’s capacity.
Free Working Memory Tests at A Real Me
Designed by brain-training experts, this test allows you to identify your short-term memory level. It can also be used to train your memory! It’s all about remembering numbers in a specific sequence.
Test Working Memory at Timo Denk’s Blog
This test measures the storage capacity of your working memory. Again, a sequence of numbers is shown and you are expected to remember as much of the sequence as you can.
Bonus – Dual N Back
The free working memory tests listed above are a great start. Once you know how strong your working memory is, you can start working to improve areas that require improvement, whether it’s your focused attention or your response time or something else altogether.
How’s your working memory? Share with us in the comments.