Looking for a way to sharpen brain skills without hitting the books or stepping foot inside a classroom? Brain Trainer is an app loaded with short games designed to improve memory, concentration, and other cognitive skills.

The setup is pretty simple: Users put in their age, gender, and education level, and the app creates a personalized daily plan of three games, each one targeting a specific area of brain function to train. The app tracks user progress with a Brain Performance Index (BPI) and even measures how mood and sleep affect brainpower.

That’s a lot to promise, so does the thing actually work? At the end of one week of brain training, I definitely didn’t hit genius status. But I did make it to a higher level on the app’s memory test. Brain Trainer has vested interest in making users feel like they’re progressing (no one wants to feel like they’re dumb or getting dumber) but I did see some practical effects of the training: At my new job, I was able to nail down names after meeting people for the first time instead of calling everyone “man” for weeks.

Of course, for every app-made braniac, there are dissenters. One study concluded that computer-based brain training does not improve mental fitness in any significant way Putting brain training to the test. Owen, A.M., Hampshire, A., Grahan, J.A., et al. MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK. Nature 2010;465(7299):775-778. . So how did my memory improve? The study also suggested people who practice a certain mental task — such as remembering or identifying objects — improve dramatically on the task but that improvement doesn’t translate into better overall cognitive function.

Brain Trainer might not make you “smarter” but it can help you improve specific functions and sharpen your mind. The app, designed by Lumos Labs, is free to download on iOS devices though users will have to pay $9.99 to upgrade to a “Pro” version. Lumos also has 30 different brain games on their site for people looking to get smart on a dime.

The app is fun, easy to use, and a free way to test your brain on the go. I saw some small improvements, but don’t think Brain Trainer is going to replace your high school diploma or some old-fashioned book learning.

Do you think apps can really make you smarter? Are you planning to give Brain Trainer a shot? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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