Educators educating Educators

Nov 24

The 7-Second Rule

For further insights into this topic, refer to "Forgetting Curve" in Long-Term Memory

Remembering information initially

The first few moments of learning give us the ability to remember something and the first few seconds of encoding determines whether something that is initially processed will also be remembered.

Elaborate rehearsal is the most effective means of robust retrieval. Thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event. Law enforcement officers know this well and utilize this principle by having a witness recall information as soon as possible after a crime.

Why is elaborate rehearsal (repetition) important? Memories may not be fixed at the moment of learning, but repetition, doled out in specific time intervals, is the fixative. Research has shown that the typical human braincan hold about 7 pieces of information for less than 7 seconds. You need to re-expose yourself to the information, which is called maintenance rehearsal.

Ebbinghaus showed the power of repetition almost 100 years ago. He created forgetting curves, which showed that a great deal of memory loss occurs in the first hour or two after the initial exposure and demonstrated that this loss could be lessened by elaborate and deliberate repetition. Furthermore, the timing of re-exposure is critical.


There are two fundamental phenomena regarding memory that all educators should be quite attentive to as they directly affect memory and how well students remember information after initially presented.

By understanding these two essential factors affecting working memory detailed in November 2017 Ed Tip, educators will be able to drastically improve students’ retention of new information.