Elaborative rehearsal refers to the cognitive strategies humans use to commit information to long-term memory.
There are two memory rehearsal forms:
- Elaborative rehearsal: strategies used to commit information to long-term memory
- Maintenance rehearsal: strategies used to commit information to short-term memory
Examples of elaborative rehearsal include using rhyming, music, analogy, and contextualization cues to retain information long-term.
Elaborative Rehearsal Definition
Elaborative rehearsal is a learning and memory technique involving building the association between current information and already-learned knowledge.
This method aims to create a meaningful, personal connection to remember new information.
Short-term memory only retains new information for around 30 seconds. With the aid of elaborative rehearsal techniques, it can be routed to long-term memory and retained indefinitely.
Elaborative Rehearsal vs Maintenance Rehearsal
The main difference between elaborative rehearsal and maintenance rehearsal is that elaborative rehearsal involves contextualization strategies that help people to retain and recall information in the longer term.
Although elaborative rehearsal functions similarly to maintenance rehearsal, with memory retaining new information through repetition, the elaborative rehearsal technique also involves relating current information to prior knowledge.
Hence it requires meaning, context, and the necessity to learn further detail.
Elaborative rehearsal involves making personal connections and providing a contextual link between the new information and other existing information already retained in memory, which doesn’t happen with maintenance rehearsal.
As such, experts regard elaborative rehearsal as an active learning style.
With maintenance rehearsal, short-term memory will retain information through constant repetition. No valuable meaning, context, or conceptual need for retaining the data exists, so it isn’t kept for an extended period.
New information will only be retained in long-term memory when a person processes it along with context, meaning, and a conceptual link to previously-stored knowledge through elaborative rehearsal.
Examples of Elaborative Rehearsal
Elaborative rehearsal strategies are plentiful, and several of them involve the use of mnemonic devices. In cognitive psychology, a mnemonic device, or memory device, is a learning technique that helps to retain or retrieve information in human memory for better comprehension.
1. Remembering through imagery
If you are somebody that struggles with remembering names, an elaborative rehearsal technique would be to associate a new person’s name with an image already retained in your memory.
If a person introduces themself as Cliff, you could create an image of a steep rock face to help you remember the name. Likewise, somebody called Lily could conjure up a picture of a lily pad floating in a lake as a means of remembering.
Chunking, or grouping, is a way to memorize information when you have a long list to recall.
For example, if you’re going away on a trip and need to ensure you don’t forget to pack something, you can “chunk” your list by creating sub-categories.
It will be easier to remember your toiletries if you sub-categorize them as just that. Your toiletry list of soap, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, and towel is then much easier to remember than including it together with your travel list of iPod, snacks, and magazines, and your documentation list of passport, flight ticket, and hotel details.
Chunking your long list into categories means your elaborative rehearsal technique allows for improved recall through long-term memory.
Organizing information through rhyme helps long-term recall and is a typical elaborative rehearsal technique.
For example, people’s names are often difficult to commit to memory by simply repeating the words using your working memory alone. You can improve memory retention by creating a rhyme using terms already in your more profound understanding.
- Amanda – She’s not a man, duh!
- Ash – Ash has a mus-tache!
- Dustin – Dustin threw trash in the dust bin.
- Harrold – Harrold Carolled at Christmas time.
If you connect a problematic word to an everyday experience in your own words, you’ll find it much easier to recall at a later stage.
Changing the lyrics of a familiar song to suit what you need to remember is one of the elaborative memory techniques that involves thinking but can undoubtedly improve memory recall.
The technique consists of repeating information and assigning it to your long-term memory palace because it includes existing context and meaning.
So if you need to remember a shopping list, for example, the tune should be one you know well, even if it is an earworm like “I’m Too Sexy.”
- “I’m too sexy for yogurt, too sexy for the bread, too sexy for the ham… I’m too sexy for the milk, too sexy for the cheese, too sexy for peach jam…”
5. Creating a sentence
Assigning a familiar word to each letter of the word you need to remember utilizes the elaborative technique of rehearsal.
To remember the word “chromatic,” for example, you could add simple words together to form a sentence that assists recall of the word and its spelling.
- c – calling
h – his
r – roommate
o – over
m – microphone
a – added
t – the
i – instant
Like most other examples mentioned, this is an example of mnemonic devices at work.
A related way to use this strategy is to remember the order of the plants through the sentence: “my very earnest mother just sat up near pluto”
|Planet||First Letter||Word of the sentence|
6. Peg method
The peg method is one of the mnemonic memory aids that link words with numbers to assist with recall. It involves connecting a standard set of words to rhyme with numbers and creating scenarios around those words to remember other items.
For example, your standard words to rhyme with the numbers one to three could be:-
- 1 = gum, 2 = shoe, and 3 = tree.
If the three words you wanted to remember in order were brave, clown and apple, you could create storylines to connect them to your standard rhyming words.
- 1 – You picture a brave man spitting some gum over a cliff.
2 – You envision a brightly-dressed clown wearing long clown shoes.
3 – You imagine a bright red apple hanging from a tree.
7. Bad puns
Bad puns can be used to help commit information to memory. The pun becomes a retrieval device that allows the memory to be more effectively carried longer-term.
For example, if you want to remember the order of the months, you can use this terrible pun:
- Can February March? No, but April May.
Or, if you want to remember that sodium’s symbol on the periodic table (Na), you could use this pun:
- I was looking for sodium on the periodic table, but then it told me it was not available! (Na)
When recalling the information, you can now recall the bad pun – which is easier to remember than a decontextualized fact because it is humorous and in the context of a story.
8. Creating analogies
Analogies help to contextualize information because you can draw connections between the new information and prior knowledge you have.
I often do this at the beginning of a teaching semester. I will try to remember a student’s name by comparing that student to a previous student I’ve had with a similar name.
For example, if I have a new student named Jackson, I’ll compare him to a previous Jackson I’ve taught. It could be a similarity or a difference that makes them memorably linked:
- Wow, this Jackson is quite short, and Jackson last year was really tall!
- Jackson seems pretty smart – I wonder if he’ll be as good as last year’s Jackson in his midterm exam.
- Last year’s Jackson had blonde hair and this year’s one does, too.
These simple analogies are usually enough to help retain the name and recall it, with a little help of my internal monologue.
9. Method of loci
The method of loci involves imagining a three-dimensional space and placing objects you want to remember within that space.
For example, you can think of your childhood home as your space to store your memories. When you have an important memory to maintain, imagine yourself walking in your kitchen and literally placing it on the floor in the middle of the room.
When you need to recall that memory, recall where you placed it!
You can also do a sequence here – for example, if you need to recall a sequence of things, imagine yourself placing each thing in a room from one end of the house. Then, when you need to recall each thing one by one, imagine yourself walking through the house picking up each object room by room.
10. Remembering relationships between numbers
This last one is simply a strategy I have used my whole life, and it’s worked quite well.
To remember a phone number (or any number, for that matter), I’ll try to remember how each number interacts with the previous one.
For example, if you want to remember the number 142745, you would struggle.
But you could try to remember it by saying:
- The first two numbers are 1 and 4 – which adds up to 5.
- The next two numbers are 2 and 7 – which adds up to 9.
- The last two numbers are 4 and 5 – which also adds up to 9.
So, now instead of just trying to remember each number without context, I can remind myself that there are three sets of numbers that make 5-9-9. This is usually enough to prompt me to remember that it was 1 and 4, then 2 and 7, then 4 and 5.
This strategy may or may not work for you, but it’s managed to help me keep figures in my memory for quite some time in the past!
How do you use elaborative rehearsal?
This technique is great for retaining long-term memories. It makes use of memory aids – such as images, rhyming, or quizzing yourself – to retain information.
Does elaborative rehearsal improve memory?
Yes, this technique is great for improving memory.
There are many techniques to create a deeper understanding of words, numbers, sentences, and other things that you need to commit to memory.
The techniques mentioned above all form part of the elaborative rehearsal method of memory, where you use context, meaning, and the conceptual link to existing knowledge to move memories from working memory, or short-term memory, to long-term memory.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.