Elaborative interrogation

What is elaborative interrogation?

Elaborative interrogation is a strategy for enhancing memory during the process of learning. You read the fact-to-be-remembered and generate an explanation for it. You use questions like ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ to understand the meaning of the information. For example, “Why do leaves fall off some trees during winter but not others?” or “How does the falling of leaves help a tree survive during winter?”.

You can take information from the exam specification and generate questions about it. This helps you to think like an examiner – you might even be able to predict the questions on the exam paper!

How to use elaborative interrogation

Start by making a list of all of the ideas you need to learn from your class materials. Then, go down the list and ask yourself questions about how these ideas work and why. As you ask yourself questions, go through your class materials (eg. your textbook, class notes, any materials your teacher has provided, etc.) and look for the answers to your questions.

As you continue to elaborate on the ideas you are learning you should aim to make connections between multiple ideas to-be-learned and explain how they work together. A good way to do this is to take two ideas and think about ways they are similar and ways they are different.

After using elaborative interrogation, you should double-check your class materials to make sure that you correctly described and explained the ideas. Then, a bit later, keep practicing elaborative. The idea is to keep adding new connections and details so that you fully understand the ideas, their connections, and how they are different from one another. You can even try explaining the concepts to a classmate or friend, and see if they can ask you any additional how and why questions.

You should work your way up to describing and explaining the ideas you are learning on your own, without your class materials in front of you.

Why should I use elaborative interrogation?

Asking yourself a number of why and how questions will encourage you to produce explanations for the ideas you are learning and to integrate the new material you are learning with the things you already know or have experienced.

Integrating new ideas with what you already know helps you to organise the new ideas, making them easier to bring to mind later on.

Engaging in elaborative interrogation also encourages you to think about relationships between different ideas, and understanding how two ideas are both similar to one another and how they are different from one another can improve your understanding of the material.


Site Search