We have all had that moment. Your exam is coming up and you start to worry. Do you have enough time? How can you maximize what little time you feel you have left? Should you just stop sleeping? Should you cram? You feel drained. You are distracted. And you feel time is your enemy. But, what if a technique existed that could potentially help?

How the Pomodoro Technique Can Help

Meet the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author, Francesco Cirillo, and is named after a tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The power of this technique is that it encourages you to work with the time you have, rather than against it.

The idea is quite simple. When facing a large task, like studying for an exam, break your work down into short, timed chunks separated by periods of rest. Why? Because regular breaks are necessary for focus and productivity. According to John Trougakos, associate management professor at the Rotman School of Management and University of Toronto Scarborough, “Mental concentration is similar to a muscle. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains – much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.” In other words, the Pomodoro Technique is interval training for your mind. It trains your brain to focus for short periods of time, helps you power through distractions, and get work done in short-bursts, while giving you the break you need to relax, recharge and destress.

Person sitting on bed with books scattered around them while writing in a notebook.

How do you follow the Pomodoro Technique?

To follow the Pomodoro Technique, choose the task you want to accomplish. Then break your time into 25-minute intervals, referred to as ‘pomodoros’. During the 25 minutes, you do your work and nothing else; No looking at Facebook, checking the news, or scrolling through Instagram or Snapchat. You just stay focused on the task at hand. After 25 minutes, an alarm signals the end of a pomodoro and a five-minute break begins. During that break, you do no work at all. These five minutes are yours to engage in the activities you would have been procrastinating with for the previous 25 minutes if you’d been allowed. After five minutes, you start your next pomodoro. After approximately four pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.

The key to the technique is a timer. A timer instills a sense of urgency. It ensures that you no longer feel you have endless time to get things done. It limits distractions — the most common cause of errors or mistakes. You know you have only 25 minutes to make as much progress as possible and then you can rest.

If this technique sounds like it could work for you, here are some tools to make it a little easier to get started.

Pomodoro Technique Tools:

  • Tomato Timer is a web-based Pomodoro Technique timer. It is basic, simple and easy-to-use and has the sequencing already broken out into pomodoros, five minute breaks and a longer break, making it rather flaw-proof.
  • Focus Keeper is an iOS app that allows for quite a bit of customization. You can pick from different themes to sounds and alarms levels that vary by session, short break and long break. It also has the ability to let you monitor your productivity over time from 3 days (in the free version) to the prior 14 and 30 days (in the premium one).
  • Focus To-Do is an an all-in-one Pomodoro timer and to-do list app that really shines on Android. You can create projects to better categorize sessions and set task priorities for a clear picture on what to work on first. Plus, there is a gamification element to keep you coming back and sticking to the technique.
  • Focus Timer is an iOS app that also includes a lot of customization. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and there’s even a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can also choose to hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.
  • Marinara Time is a web-based Pomodoro timer that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You select your timer alerts or you can reconfigure the pomodoros and break times to your preferences. It’s one of the most flexible options we saw.

While the Pomodoro Technique is a great approach to staying on task, the reality is being mindful about our time and utilizing study techniques, such as deliberate practice, are only a part of the equation. Having meaningful and engaging study material is also a part of a multi-resource approach to effective studying. If you’re preparing for an upcoming exam, take a look at the test preparations we offer.

Whether it’s a tomato timer, a killer Spotify playlist, or even spraying a unique scent while studying, we’ve got you covered with tips and tricks to ace your next exam.