Can I actually train my brain?

I don’t know if it’s just me – or are there, like, a mighty large collection of games being made that say that they can improve our brains? After the success of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training and More Brain Training, I kept seeing PC, PSP and online games which were said to help improve our noggins. So I thought why not try and see if my grey matter could be improved after playing one of these games. I decided to give myself the challenge to play More Brain Training for 30 days to see whether my brain could be well and truly trained. Now – at the best of times I can remember things like everybody else – but on my not so good days, I am a walking disaster. I’m the one who is guaranteed to leave my key in the front door, leave the light on when I go to work or, my classic trick, forgetting what someone has told me within about 10.5 seconds. So trying something which could possibly fire up my neurons and get me to be a little more “off the mark” is worth giving a shot. But as with anything that says it could help or improve on my awesomeness, I have to say I am automatically sceptical and think it is probably too good to be true.

The brain training franchise is growing all the time.
The brain training franchise is growing all the time.

But hey, the only way to truly experience anything is to be open minded and to really throw myself into my task.

With my challenge at hand, I now had to find the most suitable (and best) way to test where I was before and after the period was up. I remembered when I played Brain Training, that there were quite a few maths training games, so I thought it would be great to use a maths test. But that’s when I got stuck, which maths test should I use? I didn’t want to be too easy on myself but then I didn’t want something which would be so hard that I would end up setting the test on fire and crying in a corner. To avoid having a potential breakdown, I thought it would be good to not even consider anything above GCSE level but something which is below that.

It has been a long time since I was at school and I didn’t remember what level tests were used for which age groups but then I thought of who would… my nieces! After observing my three nieces, aged three, four and eleven, I came to the startling conclusion I am actually smarter then my two younger nieces – so that was a real confidence booster. But then the real challenge was my eldest niece. Simply because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of her or my older sister, I decided that a test for her age would be enough of a challenge for me. Once I had confirmed my findings and after scouring Wikipedia for about an hour, I found that a Key Stage Three test would be just right. The Key Stage Three test is meant to test years 7, 8 and 9 (if school had continued I’d now be year 19) and I felt confident that I would be able to do this without too many problems. And if I couldn’t, then there really wasn’t much help for me!

So, I was finally ready for test day. As I opened the pack and pulled out the first test I realised that I was probably in over my head with this. The test comes in two parts, mental maths and a non calculator test. As I flicked through the test, my heart began to sink. I spotted questions about equations, probability and ‘calculate the area of a triangle’ and all I could think of was a lot of words I’m not allowed to type. Now this test is the real deal and it is meant to give me an overall indication of my maths knowledge. I could have decided to just do the mental maths section, but hey – where is the fun in that?! With my calculator in hand, I guessed and fumbled my way through questions I haven’t contemplated since secondary school. I decided that I would use the score from my additional tests so all I would have to do is the mental maths test. The mental maths test is made up of 30 questions and on my first attempt I got 16 out of 30, which to me is not that bad.  For the additional tests, I was scored out of 60. On the non calculator test I managed 18 and for the calculator test I scored 14. Yes this is pretty shoddy but once I added it all together I got myself 48 which equals to a level 6. Now I know this meant nothing to me until I read that level 6 is the ‘exceptional’ for 11 year olds but only ‘at level expected’ for a 14 year old kid. I didn’t want to be at expected level of a 14 year old pubescent kid. I wanted to be excellent, exceptional, even. The only way to achieve this would be for me to get a score over 59. This would give me a level 7 but for the over adventurous part of me I am aiming for level 8 which means I would have to get a score over 90.

Grr...pesky brain games!
Grr… pesky brain games!

My plan of action would be for me to play More Brain Training as often as I could and to check my brain age at the end of the week. Unfortunately, my work pattern can be pretty wonky and it means that I can be at work between eight am til eight pm. At the best of times, I am normally really tired after work and the suggestion of me waking up earlier to train just brought tears to my eyes. So the only way to guarantee that I would play my DS was to play it on my way to work. Each day I would scramble for a seat on one of the two buses I catch and would squeeze in 25 to 30 minutes of training each day.

At the end of my first week, it was time to check my brain age.  To calculate your brain age, you are given three random tests to perform. You have the chance to have tests that would involve you speaking to your DS or you can just interact with the touch screen. So not to completely botch my chances of getting a decent brain age, or have people on the bus thinking I was crazy, I opted for the non speaking tests. The following tests I got were ‘Speedy Symbols’, ‘Continuous Countdown’ and my own personal nightmare, ‘Memorise 5×5’. ‘Memorise 5×5’ shows you a list of numbers up to 25 in various orders. You are given two minutes to remember where the numbers are. And here comes the hard part. The numbers disappear so you then have to write into which box the numbers were. When I saw this game for the first time I thought that someone out there just doesn’t like me. Does Nintendo not know I don’t remember anything for more than ten seconds? But it was fingers crossed that I’d do ok.

After completing my first Brain Age Check, my brain age is determined to be 43. I’m 24 so my brain age being 19 years older then me is pretty crap. So it was back to the DS to try and get my brain age down. As I was progressing through the game, I was able to unlock new training games to help my noggin get a through work out. As my second Brain Age Check was due, I was feeling really confident. I was finding my stride and was getting better at playing ‘Missing Symbols’ and ‘Masterpiece Recital’. I didn’t enjoy ‘Word Scramble’ simply because me trying to spell something from rotating letters is not a great combination, so I was mega chuffed when I got unlocked the next game, ‘Correct Change’.  Once I had my pre brain age work out it was time to make my age lower. Again I went for the non verbal tests so Memorise 5×5 reared its ugly head again. But then I thought if I do really well on the other two tests I’m bound to get a better score… right?! WRONG! My brain age went down to a miserable 57! I thought the game was joking, but when I went back to the option screen and the age was still the same I was totally gutted.

Nevertheless I was determined that one should keep going and dust off one’s shoulders the defeat one suffered. With each day I played, I not only got more brain training exercises, I was also given harder versions of the games I had. But the greatest gift I received was the power to actually choose which tests I could do for my brain age check. Now you know I was definitely going to utilise that. Some may call it “cheating” I say it is doing what is necessary! Brain Age Check time was upon me again and I got to chose what tests I thought I would excel in. I went for ‘Memory Addition’, which just so happens to be one of my favourite training games, ‘Highest Number’ and ‘Speedy Symbols’. The test was done and the results were in and I finally got the age I deserved – 34. Now that is what I’m talking about!

With my 30 day experiment drawing to a close, I did notice some positive changes with how I remembered things. I made more of an effort to focus on what I was doing, which meant a sharp decline of my leaving the key in the door and forgetting to turn the central heating on or off. Plus my mental maths skills were coming on leaps and bounds. I used to make guesses of what a total would be but now I was actually doing the maths and not getting so many wrong answers. Being that it was now my last week, I thought that I should try and attempt the other training tests that I had been avoiding. While I was on my way to work, I decided to play ‘Word Scrabble’ to shake things up a bit. The game started and I was faced with a four letter word which normally I can get right and this time I did. The next word was five letters long and I managed to get that right too. As the game went on and the words got longer, I noticed that I was getting them right. For the first time ever, I got each and every word correct. If I hadn’t been on the bus, I would have jumped up and down and made some form of squeaky cheering sound. But all I could do was take a picture of my accomplishment and feel mighty proud.

Bask in the awesomeness of my brain power!
Bask in the awesomeness of my brain power!

The final day arrived and it was my time to shine. My plan was to play all the games first and then do my Brain Age Check. Once completed it would be time to retake my maths test. So not to appear unfair, I decided it would be up to Dr. Kawashima to decide my fate and chose my tests. The first was ‘Speedy Symbols’, where I have to write the symbol which correspond with the number they give. Then it was on to ‘Continuous Countdown’ which needed me to minus 6 from 70. The results I got from the two tests were better then my previous attempts. So with my fingers and toes crossed I hoped against hope I would get a nice and easy final test. I should have known the Doc does not work like that. For my final test I had to face ‘Memorise 5×5’ –  this time it was personal. I did the best I could and it was time to get my brain age. With my eyes closed I got the courage to look at my age… which just so happened to be 34 again. I must admit I was actually disappointed that I didn’t get it lower, but then it could have gone a heck of a lot higher, so I guess ‘every cloud…’ right?!

It was time for the moment of truth – had my skills improved enough to be better than an average 14 year old girl? After totalling my score for my mental maths tests, I managed to get 22 out of 30, which is 6 points more then my last maths attempt. So that, added to my previous tests scores, gave me the grand total of 54. It’s not the 90 score I was hoping aimlessly for nor did I reach level 7 but I was five points off so that for me is an achievement.  As I think back through my 30 days of More Brain Training, I do think of how quickly playing this game became so much of my daily routine. I did worry that I may have struggled to find the time to complete my mammoth task but once I got into my stride, the time literally flew by.  So after the man hours, the achievements, disappointment and woe… the million dollar question is: ‘was my brain actually trained’? I would have to say… Hell yeah!







3 responses to “Can I actually train my brain?”

  1. Zoey avatar

    Good article. Nice to see you actually got results from it! Look our world, Sarah-Lou is now armed with a brain trainer and she’s not afraid to use it! 🙂

  2. Sarah-Lou avatar

    I was mega chuffed as well…I’ll make sure to use my new found brain power for good and not for evil!

  3. Revel Mob avatar
    Revel Mob

    Great post, thank you! Since we are on the topic of Brain Training, have you tried this recently released – free – BrainAgeTest iPhone app:

    What’s your mental age?

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