What is Lucid Recall?

Lucid Recall is a suite of computerised tests designed for the assessment of working memory skills in the age range 7 years 0 months to 16 years 11 months. The Lucid Recall suite comprises standardised tests of the following memory processes:

  • Phonological loop (Word Recall test)
  • Visuo-spatial sketchpad (Pattern Recall test)
  • Central executive function (Counting Recall test)

In addition, Lucid Recall provides the following additional standardised measures derived from those core tests:

  • Composite working memory skills
  • Working memory processing speed

Test administration is carried out entirely by the computer. Two editions of the program are available: Lucid Recall Standalone Edition (for individual computers and single administration at any given time) and Lucid Recall Network Edition (which is installed on a school computer network and can be used anywhere on that network to assess groups of students up to the maximum permitted at any given time by the licence). Information about the installation of Lucid Recall is provided separately with the program. Information about running the program such as registration of students and accessing reports is provided in the context-sensitive help, which is available by pressing the F1 key on the keyboard throughout the software (except for when using the Test Module). Help can also be delivered by mouse-clicking on the Help icon on the Option Menu which is always visible on the left margin of the Administration Module.

Each test begins with spoken instructions and practice items. The total suite takes 20–30 minutes. Full details of the tests in Lucid Recall, including guidelines on test administration, are given in Chapter 2. Results, based on nationally standardised norms, are available immediately. Results are given in standard score and centile score formats and age equivalents within the age range 7:0 – 16:11. Guidance on understanding results and interpreting reports are given in Chapter 3, with advice on how children with poor working memory can be helped given in Chapter 4. Finally, Chapter 4 discusses a number of illustrative case studies, providing pointers for effective intervention and classroom support.

What is working memory?

Working memory is a temporary storage system under attentional control that underpins our capacity for complex thought (Baddeley, 2007). Imagine, for example, multiplying two numbers together. The numbers need to be held in a short-term store whilst using learned multiplication rules to perform the calculation. Similarly, during reading comprehension text has to be maintained whilst it is processed to uncover its meaning. Working memory is therefore involved in many everyday tasks in the school classroom, and is sometimes considered as a gateway for learning.

Although there are several theoretical models of working memory, the most widely accepted model is that proposed by Baddeley (Baddeley, 2000; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). Baddeley portrayed working memory as consisting of four components. At the heart of working memory is a central executive system, a domain-general limited capacity system often likened to a mechanism of attentional control (e.g. Kane & Engle, 2003; Unsworth & Engle, 2007). The central executive is supported by two domain-specific storage components; the phonological loop that is responsible for the maintenance of auditory information, and the visuo-spatial sketchpadthat is specialised for dealing with visual and spatial information. Baddeley (2000) also identified the episodic buffer as a further subcomponent of working memory, responsible for integrating information from the subcomponents of working memory and long-term memory. 

There is now substantial evidence for Baddeley’s multiple-component model. This has come from dual-task studies in cognitive psychology, the study of brain-damaged patients, and investigations of the brain areas that are active during working memory tasks (e.g. Baddeley, 2002; 2007). Research using a multivariate statistical technique known as structural equation modelling has also revealed that a working memory model comprised of a central executive, phonological loop and visuo-spatial sketchpad provides a good fit to data collected from students throughout the childhood years (e.g. Alloway, Gathercole, Willis & Adams, 2004; Gathercole, Pickering, Ambridge & Wearing, 2004). This model of working memory has also formed the basis for much research examining the links between working memory and students’ learning. To date, however, work has focused mainly on the central executive, phonological loop, and visuo-spatial sketchpad, and hence the nature and significance of the episodic buffer remain less well understood, and tasks which could be used to assess this component relatively undeveloped at the present time.

Why is working memory important?

Working memory plays an important role in supporting the acquisition and development of educational skills. Performance on working memory measures is highly predictive of a number of scholastic skills, including literacy (e.g. De Jong, 1998; Swanson, 1994; Swanson & Berninger, 1995), mathematics (e.g. Bull & Scerif, 2001; De Stefano & LeFevre, 2004; Mayringer & Wimmer, 2000; Siegel & Ryan, 1989), and comprehension (e.g. Cain, Oakhill & Bryant, 2004; Nation, Adams, Bowyer- Crain & Snowling, 1999; Seigneuric, Ehrlich, Oakhill & Yuill, 2000). Between the ages of 7 and 14 years, students who perform poorly on measures of working memory also typically perform below expected standards in national curriculum assessments of English, mathematics, and science carried out in England (Gathercole, Brown, & Pickering, 2003; Gathercole & Pickering, 2000; Gathercole, Pickering, Knight, & Stegmann, 2004; Jarvis & Gathercole, 2003; St Clair-Thompson & Gathercole, 2006).

Measures of working memory that assess the central executive are typically better predictors of scholastic skills than those that assess the phonological loop and visuo-spatial sketchpad alone (e.g. Daneman & Carpenter, 1980; Daneman & Merickle, 1996; Engle, Tuholski, Laughlin, & Conway, 1999). However, there is a specific link between the phonological loop and the acquisition of vocabulary in both the native and a foreign language (e.g. Gathercole, Hitch, Service & Martin, 1997; Service & Craik, 1993; Service & Kohonen, 1995). The phonological loop and visuo-spatial sketchpad may also play a role in counting and mental arithmetic (e.g. Hitch, 1978; Logie & Baddeley, 1987; Pesenti, Tzourio, Doroux & Samson et al., 1998; Trbovich & LeFevre, 2003).

The diagnostic value of working memory assessment

Memory difficulties are known to be associated with a wide range of learning and neurodevelopmental disorders. Students with general reading difficulties typically show poor performance on measures of the central executive (Gathercole, Alloway, Willis & Adams, 2006; Swanson, 1993). Students with dyslexia and specific language impairments display poor performance on measures of the central executive and phonological loop (Archibald & Gathercole, 2006; Jeffries & Everatt, 2004). Students with mathematical difficulties perform below expected levels on measures of the central executive and visuo-spatial sketchpad (Gathercole & Pickering, 2000; Geary, Hoard & Hamson, 1999). Hence performance on the tests in Lucid Recall can be used diagnostically to help understand the nature of a student’s educational difficulties, and sometimes to give advance warning of likely difficulties as they get older, enabling early intervention measures to be taken in order to alleviate the educationally disadvantaging effects of memory limitations. Advice on this can be found in Chapter 4, with case studies illustrating these principles in action being provided in Chapter 5.

The need for Lucid Recall

There are several existing assessments of working memory. Some well-known psychological test batteries, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the British Abilities Scales (BAS), include working memory measures – most typically forwards and backwards digit recall. There are also several comprehensive assessments of working memory, such as the Working Memory Test Battery for Children (Pickering & Gathercole, 2001) and Alloway Working Memory Assessment, 2nd Edition (AWMA-2) (Alloway, 2012). However, each of these is designed for individual administration and therefore requires extensive teacher or assessor time. Furthermore, use of the WISC and the BAS is restricted to appropriately qualified psychologists. These factors severely restrict the utility of existing assessment products. The construction of Lucid Recall was motivated by the absence of a brief assessment of working memory which can be readily used in schools, is easy to administer, and is fully automated so that it does not require teacher or assessor input. Computer-based tests meet these requirements and also offer additional advantages, as outlined in the next section. Most notably, the Lucid Recall Network Edition allows for entire classes of students to complete the assessments at any one time. It is therefore particularly suited to large-scale screening or for research purposes.

Use of Lucid Recall in examination access assessments

Lucid Recall may also be used as part of assessment for examination access arrangements under JCQ regulations. 1 Section 5.2.2 of these regulations state that 25% extra time in examinations may be granted to students who show substantial impairment in literacy or processing speed, i.e. “…at least one below average standardised score of 84 or less which relates to an assessment of:

  • speed of reading; or
  • speed of reading comprehension; or
  • speed of writing; or
  • cognitive processing measures which have a substantial and long term adverse effect on speed of working.” [our emphasis]

Section 7.5.11 of the regulations goes on to state that ‘Cognitive processing assessments would include, for example, investigations of working memory, phonological or visual processing, sequencing problems, organisational problems, visual/motor co-ordination difficulties or other measures as determined appropriate for the individual by a specialist assessor.’

Hence results all five of the measures provided by Lucid Recall can, if required, be used in completing JCQ Form 8 when applying for examination access arrangements, provided the student is not older than the test ceiling which is 16 years 11 months. Speed of reading comprehension can be assessed using another Lucid product: Lucid Exact, which is a suite of literacy tests for the age range 11:11 to 24:11.

Assessors planning to use Lucid Recall or Lucid Exact for this purpose should be fully familiar with current JCQ regulations, which stipulate the qualifications of assessors and conditions for assessment. In particular, the regulations state that the assessment must be carried out by a suitably qualified person, who could be a psychologist or a specialist teacher, and the Head of Centre must satisfy themselves that this person is competent to carry out such assessments (JCQ Regulations 2013-14, Section 7.3). This person then takes responsibility for selecting appropriate tests, interpreting the results, and making the recommendations for access arrangements. Careful administration is advised when using group assessment in order that individual student responses are observed and monitored. The declaration on page 5 of JCQ Form 8 stipulates that the specialist assessor carried out all the assessments in Section C. JCQ regulations give guidance on what qualifications and experience may be expected of named specialist teachers (JCQ Regulations 2013-14, Section 7.5.4). These requirements apply whatever tests are used, whether Lucid Recall, Lucid Exact or any others.

1 Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments: General and Vocational qualifications. With effect from 1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014. Joint Council for Qualifications, 2103.

Advantages of computerised tests

One of the great advantages of a well-designed computer-based test is that it does not require any special expertise or training on the part of the teacher or administrator. Computers also provide more precise measurement, especially when complex cognitive skills are being assessed. Tests are administered in an entirely consistent manner for all persons taking the test, which enhances reliability of measurement. Timings and presentation speeds can be controlled precisely. The subjective judgment of the teacher or administrator does not affect the test outcome as it may in conventional tests. Lucid Recall is largely selfadministered and results are available immediately; both of these factors help to reduce administrative load and avoid time delays. Provided headphones are used and certain basic precautions are taken, Lucid Recall can be administered in a room where other activities are taking place. For further information about test administration, see Section 2.2.

There is good evidence that most students prefer computer-based tests to conventional tests (whether paper-based group tests or administered 1:1 by a teacher or psychologist). This is particularly the case for less able students or those with below average literacy skills, who are more likely to feel intimidated by assessments and be embarrassed by their performance. Computer-based tests have generally been found to be less threatening and less stressful, which helps to ensure more reliable results (Singleton, 2001). There is also evidence that there is less gender bias in computer-based tests than in conventional tests, so there are good reasons to regard computer-based tests as fairer, as well as being more consistent and objective, than conventional tests (Horne, 2007).

When using conventional tests retesting can be problematic because such tests typically have fixed item order and content. When encountering the test for a second or subsequent time, students may remember items and answers, which may enable them to improve their performance over previous attempt(s). There may also be increased confidence from being confronted by familiar tasks rather than novel tasks (although students who prefer the excitement and challenge afforded by new and unfamiliar tasks may actually find this demotivating). These are usually referred to as practice effects, and in order to reduce practice effects it is generally recommended that there should be a suitable time interval between testing and retesting so that recollection is sufficiently diminished. Some test manuals advocate at least 12 months between assessment, while others suggest a less stringent 3–6 months. A particular advantage of computerised tests (including Lucid Recall) is that test items can be generated randomly or drawn from a large item bank so that, on retest, although the student will be confronted by the same task, the items will be different from last time, thus reducing practice effects. This means that no minimum time interval needs to be placed on retesting, nor on the number of occasions that retests are given. This can be very useful when needing to evaluate the impact of an intervention over time.