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Cognitive Skills and Learning

How are your attention skills? How about your memory? Do you see things quickly and accurately? Are you a good problem solver? Attention, memory, visual processing and problem-solving are examples of cognitive skills.

Cognitive skills are the foundation for learning.  When they are functioning efficiently and accurately, we perform well in school, at work, and in life in general.  We probably just take them for granted.

When they aren’t, it means that schoolwork or workplace tasks are difficult, frustrating, and may seem just downright impossible.  Parents who see their child struggling in school typically try to figure out what it is about the subject matter that is the source of the challenge. Teachers and parents try to break things down, explain in different ways, repeat and drill the facts in the hope that they will stick.  But the real reason for learning struggles is often weaknesses in certain cognitive skills.

When cognitive skills aren’t functioning efficiently and accurately, it means that the information coming into our brains from the outside world may be incomplete, resulting in gaps in learning.  Or we may be unable to hold sufficient information in working memory (our conscious processing) to consider and integrate all facets of a problem — or even just to remember a simple set of instructions.  In other words, it’s not the material to be learned, it’s actually an individual’s capacity to learn it that needs to be determined.

When you know what your cognitive strengths and weaknesses are, you can use stronger skills to support areas that you’re not as strong in. For example, if your visual memory is stronger than your verbal memory, creating pictures (physically drawing them on paper or visualizing images) can make memorizing easier.  Knowing which skills are strong and weak is also the first step in choosing the right learning strategies.  There are thousands of evidence-based learning strategies that we can use, but they are not all suited to every learner.  Choosing the right learning strategies is critical for effective learning to take place and can mean the difference between frustration and failure or joy and success.

Assessing Cognitive Strengths and Weaknesses

Many cognitive assessments are very expensive and time-consuming.  So, often we don’t even think of trying to get a handle on our cognitive abilities or those of a child or family member.  The BrainWare Cognitive Rating Scales were developed by clinicians from multiple disciplines to help evaluate an individual’s cognitive abilities in several areas.  The rating scale is based on observable behaviors that relate to an individual’s degree of cognitive development in each of the areas.  The three scales are a little different in the skills they evaluate, depending on the age of the individual, and include:

Sensorimotor Skills — the ability to integrate senses, such as eye-hand coordination, to tell left from right, or to write and use a computer mouse.

Attention — the ability to sustain one’s focus for an appropriate period of time, even when distractions are present, and to notice details.

Perceptual Processing — the ability to take in sensory information accurately, to notice similarities and differences, and to process information in an appropriate amount of time.

Memory — the ability to retain and recall information needed for tasks, such as the details of instructions or information learned for tests.

Thinking Skills — the ability to find solutions to problems, to use logic and reasoning, to plan ahead, and to observe patterns.

Life Management Skills — the ability to manage time effectively, to stay organized and to prioritize.

Executive Functions — the directive capacities of our minds, including working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control.

Self-Esteem — while self-esteem is not a cognitive skills per se, one’s ability to take bounce back from failures or setbacks and one’s willingness to take on challenging tasks are often directly related to the strengths of one’s cognitive skills.

The BrainWare Cognitive Rating Scales can be used in a variety of ways:

  • As a screener indicating a need for a more formal cognitive assessment.
  • As an assessment before and after an intervention, such as cognitive training, to gauge improvement in cognitive capacity, either alone or in conjunction with other cognitive assessments. (NOTE: if used as a pre/post assessment, the same evaluator should perform both assessments.)

Three rating scales are available:

Many parents and teachers use these rating scales because they are easy to complete and are available free of charge.  Ready to learn more about your cognitive strengths and weaknesses or those of a child or student?  Just click on the link below.

Access the BrainWare Cognitive Rating Scales

After completing a BrainWare Cognitive Rating Scale for yourself, a child, a student or a patient, you may wish to pursue a more formal cognitive assessment.  If that is the case, the Mindprint Cognitive Assessment is a scientifically valid, nationally normed cognitive assessment that is administered online in about an hour.

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