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The pomodoro technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s as a way to improve focus and efficiency. "Pomodoro" is Italian for "tomato," and the study method is named after traditional tomato-shaped kitchen timers.

How it Works

The pomodoro technique is simple. It revolves around timed study blocks. The basic idea if that for 20-30 minutes you do one task (i.e. studying, for medical students) and only that task. Then you take a 5 minute break doing whatever you would like. But the trick is that during those 20-30 minutes you must only study. That means no texting, emailing, washing the dishes, or anything else that might distract you from the task at hand.

The Modified Pomodoro

I do think there are a few practical modifications that must be made for medical students using the pomodoro technique. One would be for doing questions sets. Obviously when attempting a timed block of questions or a practice exam, you shouldn’t break that up into 20-30 minute segments, although focusing just on the timed block and not pausing it to answer a text or something is important. Also when studying for extreme long periods of time during a dedicated study period I think extended breaks are necessary in addition to the short breaks prescribed by the basic pomodoro technique. For example, if you are studying for about 12 hours per day, I think an hour break for lunch and an extended break in the evening to eat dinner, work out, etc, is extremely beneficial.

Do What You Ought

“Do what you ought and put your heart into what you are doing” is a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva which I think explains the spirit of the pomodoro technique well. Studying is all about retention, and if you don’t focus on what you are doing, are constantly distracted, and/or do not care about learning for the sake of your patients, you won’t be able to retain anything, and you will just be getting through the material for the sake of getting things done. The pomodoro technique is about staying focused and putting your heart into it each and every 20-30 minute segment.

Give it a Try

I always introduce my students to the pomodoro technique and simply ask that they give it a try. It’s not for everyone, but some people really like it and are far more efficient because of it. What do you have to lose? Give it a try.

turn your 230 into a 260 on the USMLE in 24 hours
Ryan Kelsch

Ryan Kelsch

Ryan is a third year medical student currently attending Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where He studied molecular and cellular biology and tutored extensively organic and inorganic chemistry as a private tutor. Ryan scored a 263 on USMLE Step 1 and a 790 on COMLEX Level 1 and is currently ranked 3rd in his class of over 200. He wishes to pass his success down to his students. It would be his honor to serve his students in whatever needs they have.
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