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Verbal memory refers to memory of words and verbal items. Since we process most verbal information with the left side of our brain, damage to that side of the brain can impair verbal memory and even the ability to talk and understand speech.

The California Verbal Learning Test is one way to assess verbal memory. The tester reads aloud “Monday’s shopping list,” which is a list containing sixteen items, each belonging to one of four categories. So there might be four fruits, four vegetables, four spices, etc. The person being tested then tries to remember as many items as possible.

The tester will repeat this exercise several times, making note of how many items the person being tested remembers, and also whether he is using the categories. For example, if the test subject remembers only three vegetables but guesses that the remaining item is a vegetable, then he probably understands categories. If he guesses something entirely different, like chocolate syrup, then he probably doesn’t understand the categories.

Sometimes a tester will read from a second list, “Tuesday’s shopping list,” to see if the person can keep items from the two lists separate, or if he confuses the lists. Then, for 20 minutes or so, the tester distracts the person by giving him other things to do, and then asks him to try to remember Monday’s list.

Women often perform better on this test, especially with the categories. And, according to Memory Loss and the Brain , “patients with different kinds of brain damage or disorder also show reliable patterns of performance. For example, patients with Alzheimer's Disease tend to be unable to make use of category information (and might recall: Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Chicken) while patients with Parkinson's Disease tend to make repetition errors (for example: Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Bananas).”

One other thing to consider is that some people naturally process information differently than others -- verbally (with words) versus visually (with pictures). A person who tends to think visually may not do well on a verbal memory test, and vice versa. Comprehensive memory tests will consider both types of memory to get a more thorough assessment of a person’s ability to remember.

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