Question About Beating Cognitive Tests with Complex Images Flashed On Screen for Mere Seconds

TL;DR: I have a learning disability. I want to use modern mnemonic techniques to “beat” the standard screening test for this disability. I expect this will have positive effects outside the parameters of the test. Theoretically, is this even doable?

I’ve slowly been using mnemonic techniques to outwit my learning disabilities. I’m able to memorize math facts with memory palaces combined with images that represent numbers and / or short equations. Encoding is slow, but retrieval is not. For me, this is huge.

The inability to memorize math facts is a neurodevelopmental disability called dyscalculia, a close cousin dyslexia. The more headway I make at internalizing math facts (for the first time in my life!) using mnemonic techniques the more I keep thinking…

The standard screening test for dyscalculia is something called the Butterworth test. Basically, it’s a screen full of dots in various configurations that flashes on screen for a few seconds and goes away. The person being screened must provide an accurate (or near accurate) count of the total number of dots to pass. The test gets progressively harder as it goes.

Dyscalculia sufferers fail because dot clusters beyond a certain number or in unusual configurations can’t be estimated intuitively. Dyscalculia sufferers fail, usually badly. A neurotypical person will have much less difficulty with this kind of test. I would personally live to beat this thing using modern mnemonic techniques.

Is there a mnemonic technique that would be helpful in this kind of scenario?


I suppose the question is, why would you want to? The purpose of all such tests is to uncover underlying cognitive issues that may affect learning. Your question seems then to say, “How can I deny having condition such and such”.

The answer is simple, don’t do the test.

As well, people with cognitive issues can, in the educational environment, get accommodations. But they don’t have to use them or reveal them.

It seems to me then, that your question is vacuous.

To prove out a theory, mostly. Given my disability, early on in life I was told I’d never be able to do certain things I routinely do. I want to see just how far my brain can truly be pushed and see if I can redefine “what’s possible.”

I’m not trying to pretend my limitations don’t exist. But, if I don’t push myself to beyond what I think is possible nobody else will do it for me.

Fun Fact: Hellen Keller redefined what was possible for a blind and deaf person to achieve. She would read (via braille) so veraciously that her fingers would bleed.

I clearly haven’t tapped out: my fingers aren’t bleeding. :slight_smile:


Wouldn’t re-defining what’s possible be better approached by excelling in all kinds of areas rather than trying to get better at a single task? I imagine the results of that would be similar to brain training games that don’t actually generalize to anything other than the brain training game.

This doesn’t sound like a memory thing. I wouldn’t think any memory technique would help estimate quantities of something. You may be able to break the picture down into a 10x10 grid and use images to place how many dots are in each grid, but I don’t know that it would be possible to do that quickly enough for this test.

Hi @8bit,

Not sure I can advise you on how to achieve your objective, but I wonder if you have heard of Barbara Arrowsmith Young. She has become moderately famous for having overcome severe learning disabilities. Her methods have been written about by Dr. Norman Doidge in his book The Brain that Changes Itself, which is about neuroscience and brain plasticity.

One of the things that Arrowsmith Young talked about (for example, in a recent Ted Talk) that stuck with me was that the people who tried to help her did so by trying to teach her to get around her disabilities. She rejected that approach and ended up learning to do things that would not have seemed possible before neuroscientists started to realize that the brain is capable of enormous change.

I can’t speak for the veracity of her methods. I only know that she is taken very seriously by at least some well known voices in the neuroscience world. I mention it because it sounds to me that what you are trying to do sounds comparable to what she famously is supposed to have achieved. Maybe it would help you to read up on her methods.



I am not exactly sure on mnemonic techniques but you can attempt learning patterns e.g seeing 3 dots as triangles so you can easily count the amount of shapes rather than dots, perhaps you should count in images too as I remember you once saying you had dyslexia too. Something similar to a soroban , since it allows people to count and also do calculations much faster.

If you process the block of dots as something else you can also encode it inside a memory palace though, it might be at that point simply faster to set a count up on a visual soroban of sorts.I remember that people who learn to count on a visual soroban can at the same time write or speak to someone else completely without hindrance indicating the absence of any reliance on common brain regions.

When I was younger, visual estimation was something that most people in rural areas could do - and city slickers couldn’t.

That implies that estimation can be taught, rather than being in the DNA.

If that’s true, then the dyscalculia test results can be improved simply be repeated exposure to the test. The situation might be similar to UK tests for IQ. The only valid test result is for the first test, because any user can become smarter at doing the tests - similar to the Lumosity scam which cost them a massive fine.

The following link shows how birders do estimation:

The previous link has a PDF:

There are games to teach kids estimation. Here’s one random link as an example:

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