n-back

App review by
Erin Wilkey Oh, Common Sense Media
n-back App Poster Image
Challenging memory task for self-motivated players.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn to stretch their working memory with this challenging n-back task. The integration of addition problems into the mix gives players some arithmetic practice as well. In order to hold the numbers in their working memory and complete the math problems at the same time, some kids might develop strategies to help them remember such as saying the numbers aloud. Despite its bland interface and lack of tips or guidance, n-back is a challenging brain exercise that can sharpen mental skills.

Ease of Play

The app has a simple design with only one type of n-back task and 10 levels of difficulty. Though the app is easy to use, n-back tasks can get challenging very quickly as you increase how many numbers ("n") back you must remember.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that n-back has players perform a challenging memory task commonly used to measure and build working memory. Working memory includes thinking skills that allow us to keep information in mind as we complete tasks. N-back tasks require players to stretch working memory by following a sequence numbers or shapes and trying to remember what they saw two times before or three times before and so on. This version combines addition problems with the n-back memory task for a super brain workout that might be too tough for some kids. Players can share high scores via the Game Center social network, but participation is optional.

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What's it about?

Players set the difficulty level from 1 to 10 to determine how many numbers back (n-back) they must remember. They see a sequence of addition problems and must calculate the problem and remember the answer. For Level 1, they must tap the answer to the problem that came before the one they see on the screen. For Level 2, they tap the answer for the problem they saw two times before. Each round includes 10 problems, and players' best times for each level are recorded.

Is it any good?

Playing N-BACK is a lot of work and not much fun, so it seems doubtful too many kids will be clamoring for this one. The levels ramp up in difficulty very quickly, though attempting to improve scores at the lower levels might be a fun challenge for some kids. It's possible to improve times and move up to more difficult levels with dedicated practice, but it won't happen overnight. And presenting addition problems as part of the memory task adds an extra layer of challenge for kids who are still working on basic arithmetic skills.

That said, the buzz around these n-back tasks (and why there are so many in the App Store) is that at least one research study suggests working memory training can improve fluid intelligence (i.e., IQ). Some scientists contest the findings and call for more research to be done. Either way, n-back tasks do exercise working memory and get the neurons firing, which isn't a bad thing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Help your kids come up with strategies to support working memory. Encourage them to say things aloud or create a rhyme or mnemonic devices to build memory skills.

  • Some researchers say games like n-back can help kids improve working memory. Challenge your kids to play a few minutes each day and keep track of their progress.

App details

For kids who love learning with apps

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