Elaborative Rehearsal: A Better Way to Memorize

College student using elaborative rehearsal
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What Is Elaborative Rehearsal?

Elaborative rehearsal is a method to more effectively encode information into your long-term memory by requiring the brain to process it in a more in-depth way. Elaborative rehearsal consists of making an association between the new information you're trying to learn and the information you already know.

Elaborative rehearsal can involve organizing the information, thinking of examples, creating an image in your head of the information and developing a way to remember the information through a mnemonic device.

There are several mnemonic devices that can facilitate elaborative rehearsal, such as using the first letter of a list of words to make a new word. 

Origins of Elaborative Rehearsal

Elaborative rehearsal finds its roots in the levels of processing theory proposed by Craik and Lockhart in 1972. These researchers felt that the depth of processing of information directly affects our ability to recall it. 

What's the Difference Between Elaborative Rehearsal and Maintenance Rehearsal?

Maintenance rehearsal is what we might typically think of as rehearsal—that is, the straight repeating of information in order to memorize it. This may also be referred to as rote rehearsal. An example of maintenance rehearsal is repeating the digits of a phone number until we dial them.

Rehearsal can be mental, where you're thinking about and repeating the information in your mind, or verbal, where you're speaking and repeating the information out loud that you're trying to learn.

Does Rehearsal Work as a Memory Aid?

Multiple research studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of rehearsing information in order to be able to later recall it.

For example, one study compared mental rehearsal to note-taking and found mental rehearsal to be significantly superior in memorizing information.

However, other studies suggest that it may depend on what type of rehearsal is being used. Some evidence suggests that maintenance rehearsal is mostly effective at placing information in your short-term memory (such as a phone number) while elaborative rehearsal may be more effective at encoding it into your long-term memory.

5 Strategies for Elaborative Rehearsal

Let's imagine you need to learn the names and locations of all the bones of the body. Here are some examples of ways to use elaborative rehearsal in this task.

  • Translate information into your own words. Rather than simply reading what your study guide says about which bone is connected to the next bone, try phrasing the information differently and then explaining it to someone else.
  • Compose study questions and answer them. Come up with 10 questions about where specific bones are located in the body and which other bones they're connected to, and then answer your questions.
  • Use images to assist you. Use paper and online images of the skeleton, as well as identify on your own body where each bone is located and what its name is. Rather than simply looking at the pictures on a study guide, use color to help you. For example, you could choose blue to color each bone of the leg once you've rehearsed its name several times. The color blue might remind you that blue jeans are worn over legs, which can help you recall the location of the bone.
  • Grouping of terms. Outline different characteristics or categories of the bones and check off which ones fit into each group. You could identify all of the bones that are located in the foot and list them in that category, and then do the same for the other parts of the body.
  • Use a mnemonic strategy. Mnemonic strategies can be very helpful in learning names or terms. For example, take the first letter of the list of bones in the arm and hand and create a new word where each letter stands for one of the bones you need to remember.

Space Out Your Learning

Don't try to learn all of the bones in the body in one sitting.

Your efficiency is likely to decrease if you spend too long cramming for a test. Research suggests that using the same amount of time (or less) spread out over the course of a few days can be more effective at placing the information you need to know in your memory.

Elaborative Rehearsal in Early Dementia

While much of the research about elaborative rehearsal is pertinent to students learning facts and terms in an educational setting, there has also been some discussion about how this method may be able to be used by people in the early stages of dementia.

Memory is often one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.  However, some research has demonstrated that elaborative rehearsal strategies, such as using a simple mnemonic technique, can help compensate for those memory deficits and improve mental functioning in early dementia.

Sources:

The Center for Development and Learning. What Strategies Can Be Used To Increase Memory? http://www.cdl.org/articles/what-strategies-can-be-used-to-increase-memory/

Golvers, D. Memory Rehabilitation in Early Dementia.  https://nsw.fightdementia.org.au/sites/default/files/20050500_Nat_CON_GolversMemRehabEarlyDem.pdf

Ricker, Jeffry. Using Elaborative Rehearsal to Study for Tests. November 5, 2011. http://sccpsy101.com/2011/11/05/using-elaborative-rehearsal-to-study-for-tests/

University of Alberta. Elaborative Rehearsal. April 2010. http://www.bcp.psych.ualberta.ca/~mike/Pearl_Street/Dictionary/contents/E/elabreh.html

University of California, San Diego. Department of Cognitive Science. Levels of Processing. http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~coulson/101b/mon-wk9.pdf​

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