Active working memory involves the ability to hold things together in your mind while working with them, such as steps in a process or attributes of a concept. It plays a role in helping you produce quality work and communicate ideas effectively. Following instructions, writing, and problem solving are all aided by active working memory. This part of memory also helps you link the information registered in short-term memory to information stored in your long-term memory.

People with strengths in this area may be able to do math calculations or manipulate other information (like reverse a phone number) in their heads with ease. They can listen to a theory or explanation and then apply it to a task. They can easily follow multi-step processes, like recipes.

People with weak active working memory may forget details from the beginning of a passage by the time they finish reading it, or forget a question as they are trying to recall an answer. They may have trouble keeping track of multiple steps. Or they may have a hard time comparing and contrasting two things because remembering aspects of both at the same time is difficult.

Strategies for managing challenges with active working memory

  • Play games like Sudoku, which require you to apply multiple rules at the same time.
  • Practice doing math computations or making estimates in your head. For example, as you’re waiting in line to buy multiple things, try to calculate what you will spend based on the prices of the items you are buying.
  • Exercises in which you must remember and repeat a series or reverse the order of something can also help you develop your active working memory.
  • Do writing tasks in stages, rather than trying to spell, punctuate, and develop ideas at the same time.
  • In meetings or presentations, jot down questions or comments as you think of them. This helps you focus on listening rather than on remembering your thought.
  • When working at a computer, keep the resources you need open in multiple screens.
  • When reading something long or difficult, pause once in a while to summarize for yourself what you have just read.


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