I'm trying to find a test of semantic memory for students.

We're working on a programme to explore the impacts of exposure to nature on a student's academic abilities (hoping to pique teachers interest by showing the interconnection).

The starting point for this was this paper in which students that are taken for a walk in the park experience a boost in working memory. The test used there was a reverse digit sequence recall.

I'm looking to use a different test that is more closely related to semantic memory, and if possible, is a little less dull (I know ideally this would not be a factor, but I suspect some will think the digit sequence test too simplistic and dismiss the results as not representative of aptitude on more complex challenges of school subjects).

My understanding of the different types of memory is that semantic is the one that makes up a big component of what is tested on traditional academic standard tests, so this would be a more relevant fit to showing the relationship between nature and the cognitive abilities commonly valued and assessed.

In looking for tests, I found the NIH toolbox, but it only has tests on episodic and working memory. I've also looked here on StackExchange, but again, can't find answers specific to semantic memory.

Where might I look for an appropriate tool for semantic memory? If the test is one that can be administered to the same student more than once, that would be helpful too (to show comparative difference in memory after exposure to different environments) (and if you have suggestions of other cognitive skills that we should be examining, I'm open to it)


1 Answer 1


This seems difficult for a number of reasons.

First, are you interested in testing the retrieval of pre-existing semantic memories or the ability to form new semantic memories? It is entirely possible that exposure to nature increases one without the other, so be sure you're testing the one you're interested in (or both, carefully).

Second, semantic memory is highly dependent on environmental exposure (e.g., I know that trains in the Netherlands are blue and yellow, but if you haven't been there, you probably don't), and thus creating an appropriate semantic memory task will vary by demographic (much more finely cut than "10-18yo"), location, etc. This means that a general test of semantic knowledge is unlikely to be valid over a large set of the population.

Third, semantic memory is extremely susceptible to practice effects (otherwise studying wouldn't work), so figuring out something that can be administered more than once without major order effects is unlikely. You will probably have to find a task and split it into subsets which can be administered at different times, which will compound your demographic problem above by requiring more items.

If you want to test ability to encode semantic memory, the task in a paper like McKoon & Ratcliff (1986) may be helpful. If you want to test the ability to retrieve pre-existing semantic memories, something like that used in Patterson et al. (2014) would be more useful. You may want to repurpose either procedure by substituting scholastically relevant facts for their category recognition and/or new encoding tasks.

Automatic activation of episodic information in a semantic memory task. McKoon, G., & Ratcliff, R. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 12(1), Jan 1986, 108-115. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.12.1.108

Semantic memory: Which side are you on? Patterson, K., Kopelman, M., Woollams, A., Brownsett, S., Geranmayeh, F., et al. Neuropsychologia (Nov 22, 2014). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.11.024


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