The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

California Verbal Learning Test

The California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) is a neuropsychological test which can be used to assess an individual's verbal memory abilities.

The tester reads aloud a list, called "Monday's shopping list". The list contains sixteen common words, each of which belongs to one of four categories: thus, there are four fruits, four herbs and spices, etc. The subject is then asked to recall as many of these items as possible.

3 Step for California Verbal Learning Test 

There are several components to this test:

Step 1: The tester records how many items the subject remembers over several repeated trials. Additionally, the tester records whether or not the subject is making use of category information.

For instance, suppose the four fruit items are Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Cherries, and suppose the subject can only remember Apples, Bananas and Oranges.

  • If the subject cannot remember the fourth item, but guesses that it is another fruit (e.g., Grapes), the tester concludes that the subject understood the category information in the list.
  • If the subject guesses an unrelated word (e.g., Chicken), the tester concludes that the subject was not able to understand the category information in the list.

Step 2: The tester may give a second list ("Tuesday's shopping list"), and see if the subject is able to keep the items from each list separate, or if the two lists become confused.

Step 3: There is a short delay of 20 minutes, during which the subject is given other tasks to perform, and then the tester again asks the subject to recall Monday's list.

Because it contains so many different components, the CVLT is fairly popular as a neuropsychological test of many aspects of verbal learning and memory. Overall, women tend to perform better than men on the CVLT, especially in their ability to make use of category information. Patients with different kinds of brain damage or disorder also show reliable patterns of performance.

For example: Patients with Alzheimer's disease tend to be unable to make use of category information (and might recall: Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Chicken) while patients with Parkinson's disease tend to make repetition errors (for example: Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Bananas).

by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain