Quick brain teasers to exercise your working memory

Draw the let­ter J in your mind.

Now draw the let­ter D. Turn it 90 degrees to the left and put it in top of the J.

What does this shape resem­ble? An umbrel­la, of course!

Good job: By men­tal­ly rotat­ing these let­ters you have exer­cised your work­ing mem­o­ry, a cru­cial ingre­di­ent of cog­ni­tion and problem-solving.

Working memory as temporary mental workspace:

Not only can we store infor­ma­tion in our short-term mem­o­ry, but we can also manip­u­late it in real-time, as we think about it. This is why short-term mem­o­ry is tech­ni­cal­ly called work­ing memory.

Think of work­ing mem­o­ry as our tem­po­rary men­tal work­space. We use it in every­day tasks rang­ing from dri­ving (where you need to keep in mind the loca­tion of the cars around you as you nav­i­gate through traf­fic), to prepar­ing a bud­get (where you need to keep in mind one spend­ing cat­e­go­ry while work­ing on anoth­er), to writ­ing a let­ter (where you need to keep in mind all you want to say while devel­op­ing each point a sen­tence at a time).

Working memory enables active thinking:

Increas­ing one’s work­ing mem­o­ry abil­i­ty can have enor­mous ben­e­fits in life. It could be com­pared to boost­ing the pro­cess­ing capac­i­ty of a com­put­er. Work­ing mem­o­ry is where you do your active think­ing and prob­lem solv­ing.  So, a well func­tion­ing work­ing mem­o­ry is key to suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ing many com­plex activ­i­ties that require to rea­son, under­stand and learn. Try the exer­cis­es oppo­site to use your men­tal work­space in dif­fer­ent situations.

Quick brain teasers to exercise your working memory:

Men­tal Rotation
When try­ing to find the right jig­saw puz­zle piece, you often men­tal­ly rotate the ones you see on the table to “see” in your work­ing men­tal space whether they would fit. Let’s prac­tice men­tal rota­tion now.

In each box to the right, study the top fig­ure for 5 sec­onds. The cov­er it up and cir­cle the fig­ure in the bot­tom part that match­es it once rotat­ed. Yes — you will have to men­tal­ly rotate the fig­ures to find the answer.

(Solu­tions below)

Back­ward spelling
Now imag­ine you are com­pil­ing a school quiz and one of the ques­tions involves spelling sev­er­al words backward.

Work on one word at a time: Read each word to the left once, then cov­er it up and spell it backward.

Ready. Set. Go!



Solutions to mental rotation

Box 1: 1st fig­ure on the left
Box 2: 3rd fig­ure on the right
Box 3: 3rd fig­ure on the right

– These brain teasers come from Max Your Mem­o­ry by Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon. Dr. Mich­e­lon holds a PhD in Cog­ni­tive Psy­chol­o­gy, co-authored The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness and blogs reg­u­lar­ly about cog­ni­tive fit­ness and brain health.

To explore more fun brain teaser games and puzzles:

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

Top Articles on Brain Health and Neuroplasticity

Top 10 Brain Teasers and Illusions


Subscribe to our e-newsletter

* indicates required

Got the book?