Advice On Mastering n=5

I had a request through e-mail for tips on mastering n=5. I thought this would be a good subject for a post. Please chip in if you have other thoughts…

n=5 seems to be a pivotal n-back level. For most people on the blog 5 seems to be the largest single chunk that we can hold and repeat. This may also relate to how many items one can comfortably rehearse in two-and-a-half to three seconds. (That’s how much time we have between items.)

I would encourage this approach:

1. Pause before every block at 5. Imagine the rhythm of 5. Develop some sense of affection for the rhythm, even if it’s faked. Bring a smile to your face, even and welcome the opportunity to visit with 5.

2. As you begin the block, build up the first five item pairs in the sequence slowly. You have three whole seconds for each new item pair. As the second item pair appears, go back and re-fix the first item pair. As the third appears, go back and re-fix the first and second item pairs. Do this all the way up to 5. (When I say re-fix, I mean visualize the series in your mind’s eye and at the same time rehearse the letter sequence in your head.)

3. Now, as the sixth item pair appears, don’t panic! Simply go back to the second item pair and re-fix 2, 3, 4, 5, and then add the new 6th pair.

4. Try to keep this up, dropping the oldest and rehearsing the new set of 5 as you go.

5. If you get lost, simply start again, fixing a new starting point. You can start a set of 5 wherever you want. And you can still succeed even if you miss a few items altogether.

I realize that this advice suggests rehearsal and mindfulness and goes against the idea that we can “feel” the hits. But I think perhaps we need to master an n-value mindfully before we can feel it.

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2 Responses to “Advice On Mastering n=5”

  1. Rupert says:

    I would question this – if you’re ‘fixing’ by repetition, you’re beginning to commit to long-term memory.

    I think you should aim to hold the whole sequence in your head in a ‘non-thinking’ fashion. Just as if someone says 5 words to you and you can repeat them back without thinking about them or repeating them…

    I also find it easier to remember blocks equal to the n-back, rather than dropping the last and adding another.

  2. Ólafur says:

    LOL… I was worrying that I was limited with n=7.

    Try to handle the letters in chunks of two or three:


    wqe asd zxc ;)

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