Understanding Elaborative Rehearsal in Psychology

Definitions, Examples, and Research

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Elaborative rehearsal is a way to memorize information more effectively and maintain it in your long-term memory. This method of memorization connects information you already know with new information.

Research has found that by making associations between what you're trying to learn and what you already know, your brain process the new information in a more in-depth way.

This article explains how elaborative rehearsal can be used as as a memory aid and how it compares to maintenance rehearsal, another method of memorization.

College student reading book at table
Hero Images / Getty Images

What Is Elaborative Rehearsal?

Long-term memories are those that span from days to decades. Short-term memories, on the other hand, include those from a few seconds to a few days.

There are two types of memory rehearsal: maintenance and elaborative. Both involve repetition to move new information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. However, each kind of rehearsal works differently.

Maintenance rehearsal is the straight repeating of information to memorize it. This type of rehearsal is also called rote rehearsal. This type of rehearsal can be mental, where you're thinking about and repeating the information in your mind. It can also be verbal, where you're speaking and repeating the information aloud.

Repeating the digits of a phone number until you dial them is an example of maintenance rehearsal.

Elaborative rehearsal is more complex than maintenance rehearsal. It uses different encoding strategies to link new information with information you already know.

Strategies may include:

  • Organizing information
  • Thinking of examples
  • Creating an image in your head
  • Using a mnemonic device

What Is a Mnemonic Device?

A mnemonic device is a learning technique that uses different strategies to encode and retrieve new information. It is based on the idea that your mind can recall relatable details. Using acronyms and rhymes to help memorize new information are examples of mnemonic devices.

Does Rehearsal Work?

While everyone benefits from using rehearsal to help remember things, some groups may find it particularly helpful, including:

Multiple research studies have evaluated the effectiveness of rehearsing information to recall it later.

For example, a 2015 study found that rehearsing details of video clips immediately after watching them improved recall of the videos weeks later. Participants in this study were not directed on how to rehearse. Therefore, this study demonstrated the effectiveness of rehearsal in general, rather than that of a specific type.

However, evidence suggests that maintenance rehearsal is primarily effective at placing information in your short-term memory. Elaborative rehearsal is more effective at encoding it into your long-term memory.


Much of the research about elaborative rehearsal is related to students. However, some research has also evaluated how this method may be helpful in the early stages of dementia.

Memory is often one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia. Some research has shown that elaborative rehearsal strategies can help.

In a study published in 2016, researchers found that using a simple mnemonic technique helped compensate for memory deficits in people with mild cognitive impairment and improved mental functioning in early dementia.

Elaborative Rehearsal Strategies

There are many different elaborative rehearsal strategies you can draw on to memorize new information.

Translate Into Your Own Words

After reading something new, try rephrasing the information using words that are already familiar to you.

For example, suppose you read that atherosclerosis is the deposit of fatty plaques on artery walls (but plaques is a new term for you). You might reword this to: Atherosclerosis is when fat and cholesterol harden inside arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart.

By doing this, you translate new information to already stored knowledge. Your existing understanding of cholesterol helps you remember what plaques are. This helps you both build your vocabulary and your ability to grasp new concepts.

You can take it a step further and explain the concept to someone else in your own words.

Use Imagery

Say you want to memorize the names of different types of clouds. Using imagery can help you remember the name and shape of each type.

For example, a cumulus cloud is puffy with rounded towers. To remember both the term and the form, you may think:

  • Cumulus sounds like accumulate.
  • I can build a tower of building blocks if I accumulate enough of them and place them on top of one another.

You can then draw on an image of a tower of building blocks to help you remember a towering cumulus cloud.

In addition, you could use color to help you. For example, assigning the color yellow to nimbus clouds may remind you of your yellow rain boots. This can help you recall that these clouds carry rain.


Grouping, also called "chunking," is an effective strategy that groups smaller categories into larger ones to make them easier to recall. This is especially effective for remembering lists of things.

For instance, let's say you're packing for a trip and you need to remember toothpaste, snacks, shampoo, headphones, deodorant, a book, a sleeping bag, and a pillow.

Think of how these different items are related and break your list up accordingly. So, in this case, you may bucket the items as follows:


  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo
  • Deodorant


  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow

Travel activities:

  • Book
  • Headphones
  • Snacks

Grouping builds on information you already know because it relies on established connections and associations in your memory.

Use Mnemonic Strategies

Mnemonic strategies can be beneficial in learning names or terms, and in following directions and completing tasks. Some examples of mnemonic devices include:

  • Keyword cues: A new word makes you think of an existing word in your vocabulary.
  • Music: Sing new information to a familiar tune.
  • Acronyms: Each letter stands for a word.
  • Acrostics: A sentence helps you remember information.
  • Rhymes: For example, to remember which way to turn a screw, you might say "righty tighty, lefty loosey."
  • The method of loci: This involves visualizing yourself picking up pieces of new information in a familiar room.
  • Peg method, or linking words with numbers: For example, let's say you're going grocery shopping and need apples and cheese. You might use a common rhyming example—one=gun, two=shoe—to help you remember your list. Apples are your first item. Think 'one gun can shoot an apple across the room.' Cheese is your second. Think 'a shoe is as stinky as a wedge of Limberger.'


Elaborative rehearsal is one of two types of memorization. It uses many different strategies to commit new information to longer-term memory.

It relies on connecting information you already know to new information. Mnemonic devices are commonly used in elaborative rehearsal.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are two types of rehearsal?

    There are two types of rehearsal: maintenance and elaborative. Maintenance rehearsal (also known as rote memorization) involves repeating information (out loud or in your head). Elaborative rehearsal is more elaborate and involves additional memory aids like mnemonic devices.

  • Which type of rehearsal strengthens long-term memory?

    Elaborative rehearsal is more effective for long-term memory retention. By using memory aids—such as grouping, using images, or quizzing yourself on the information you need to learn—you are more likely to have a stronger long-term retention rate than you would if you used maintenance rehearsal.

  • Does research support elaborative rehearsal?

    Yes. Studies have demonstrated that elaborative rehearsal is an effective way to retain information.

  • Is elaborative rehearsal more effective than maintenance rehearsal?

    That depends on what information you need to remember and for how long. While elaborative rehearsal is effective for the information you want to remember long-term, there may be cases (like remembering a phone number) when maintenance rehearsal may be appropriate.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kheirzadeh S, Pakzadian SS. Depth of processing and age differences. J Psycholinguist Res. 2016;45(5):1137-49. doi:10.1007/s10936-015-9395-x.

  2. Cowan N. What are the differences between long-term, short-term, and working memory?Prog Brain Res. 2008;169:323-338. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(07)00020-9

  3. Chai WJ, Abd Hamid AI, Abdullah JM. Working memory from the psychological and neurosciences perspectives: A reviewFront Psychol. 2018;9:401. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00401

  4. Mostafa EA, El Midany AAH. Review of mnemonic devices and their applications in cardiothoracic surgery. Journal of the Egyptian Society of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery. 2017;25(1):79-90. doi:10.1016/j.jescts.2017.03.005

  5. Bird CM, Keidel JL, Ing LP, Horner AJ, Burgess N. Consolidation of complex events via reinstatement in posterior cingulate cortex. J Neurosci. 2015;35(43):14426-34. doi:10.1523/NEUROSCI.1774-15.2015

  6. Khalil MK, Elkhider IA. Applying learning theories and instructional design models for effective instruction. Advances in Physiology Education. 2016;40(2):147-156. doi:10.1152/advan.00138.2015

  7. Hussey EP, Smolinsky JG, Piryatinsky I, Budson AE, Ally BA. Using mental imagery to improve memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease: Trouble generating or remembering the mind’s eye? Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2012;26(2):124-134. doi:10.1097/WAD.0b013e31822e0f73

  8. Dimitriadis SI, Tarnanas I, Wiederhold M, Wiederhold B, Tsolaki M, Fleisch E. Mnemonic strategy training of the elderly at risk for dementia enhances integration of information processing via cross-frequency coupling. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions. 2016;2(4):241-249. doi:10.1016/j.trci.2016.08.004

  9. National Institute on Aging. What are the signs of Alzheimer's disease?

  10. McNamara DS, Magliano JP. Self-explanation and metacognition: The dynamics of reading. In D. J. Hacker, J. Dunlosky, & A. C. Graesser (Eds.), Handbook of Metacognition in Education. 2009: 60–82.

  11. Berry DC. Metacognitive experience and transfer of logical reasoningThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A. 1983;35(1):39-49. doi:10.1080/14640748308402115

  12. Keogh R, Pearson J. Mental imagery and visual working memory. Baker CI, ed. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029221

  13. Norris D, Kalm K. Chunking and data compression in verbal short-term memoryCognition. 2021;208. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104534

  14. Radović T, Manzey D. The impact of a mnemonic acronym on learning and performing a procedural task and its resilience toward interruptionsFront Psychol. 2019;10:2522. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02522

Additional Reading
  • Goldstein EB. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. 5th ed. Cengage Learning; 2019.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.