Working memory is the ability to hold information in one’s mind and to mentally manipulate this information (e.g., mental math). It’s helpful to think of your working memory as your brain’s bandwidth. If you have poor Internet service and you try to watch three TV shows simultaneously, your computer will slow down and may even crash. The same is true when a student’s working memory is overloaded.
Test taking can easily lead to working memory overloads. The student has to read and decipher the test questions, follow the directions, retrieve the appropriate information from long-term memory, answer the question in the appropriate format, and pay attention to conventions such as spelling, grammar, labeling diagrams, etc.
Teaching students strategies to remember information can reduce the working-memory demands of test taking. Mnemonic strategies such as cartoons or crazy phrases can help make retrieval of important information easier. Likewise, error analysis of past exams will help students follow directions and check their work.
Take a look at the SMARTS Overview video below to learn about best practices and common challenges when teaching executive function strategies for accessing working memory.
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Director