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I always assumed the number next to the review link was the number of items in the queues, ans its non-matching caused by the queue being emptied (by others) without updating the indicator.

But now it's clear that this is not the case. Even reloading the page shows it still at (4), but the queues are empty and there is not enough activity to imply that new items are appearing and disappearing too fast to see.

I can't find 4 of anything, or non-zero of anything. So what's it for? It can't be counting what I did do because it appears out of nowhere (that's what prompts me to work the queues) and generally goes down in value.

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You are far from the first person to ask this. There are lots of questions about this on Meta.SE, some of which lead to this question. The bottom line is that the counter in the header is the total number of things awaiting review; it's not personalized for you. It includes things you can't review -- because you already did, because you skipped them, or because there are queues you don't have privileges to review yet.

Four items in the queue is not at all bad for a site at our stage of development. If you see the number start to climb (and not go down) and you're already doing the reviews you can do, then it's time to bring it up on meta or in chat to try to get the review queues some love. Otherwise, just keep doing what you're doing and treat this number as an overall site indicator, not an indicator of your own to-do list.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why isn't that explained on the "detailed answers to any questions" help center, especially if searching for the word that appears next to that number? I did look first. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 14 '15 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Good question. And this question has, I think, come up on every single site I'm active on, and several times on MSE, so it seems that it confuses lots of people. I've made this feature request on MSE about this. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Apr 14 '15 at 2:44

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