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Spaced repetition and the Pomodoro Technique

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Studying for an exam is hard work, and most students will have experienced the pressure to cram as much learning as they can into a short space of time. During my undergraduate and postgraduate study days I remember spending long chunks of time chained to the library study desks before an exam or piece of coursework was due. It turns out that relying on big blocks of study time might not be the best way to do it after all. There has been a lot of research in the last few years done on the most efficient and effective ways to study, and something which comes up time and again is the concept of spaced repetition. A popular method which has spaced repetition at it’s core is the Pomodoro Technique.

How does the Pomodoro help you to study?

The Pomodoro Technique relies on four key principles:

  • Work with time, not against it
  • Eliminate burnout
  • Manage distractions
  • Create a better work/life balance

By using this method the aim is that you avoid that racing against the clock feeling and instead use time management techniques to change the way you study. Brief regular scheduled breaks help to keep you focused and stop you getting that fatigued feeling from concentrating too long. Another key element to this is avoiding any distractions. We all know how easy it is to lose your focus and start checking Facebook or emails, and by recognising this and prioritising your tasks you can avoid getting off track. by sticking to these principles the aim is that you achieve more in a shorter space of time, leaving you safe in the knowledge that you have been productive and can take some much needed time out. Your study is broken into 25 minute chunks, between which you have a short 5 minute break, and every time you complete 4 Pomodoro tasks you then take a longer break to give your mind a rest.

Student studying for exams

Why does spaced repetition mean more efficient study?

The concept of spaced repetition is based on research which begun in the 1930s but has been much more popular since the 1970s. The idea is that by giving yourself small breaks to allow the information to settle in, you then retain it for longer. Earlier this year Loren Dunn wrote for Forbes Magazine on how to study efficiently based on research-proven techniques, and recommended the pomodoro technique:

‘Procrastination makes spaced repetitions impossible. If you’re among the many, many people who struggle with procrastination, you’re in good company. Check out the Pomodoro Technique, just one of many tools that can help to combat procrastination, in this case by breaking study sessions into manageable pieces.’

How do people use the Pomodoro Technique?

The official Pomodoro Technique was invented by Italian entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo and was launched in the 1990s. He wanted to find a way to combat his own habits of procrastination and burnout when he was at college, and came up with the concept of using a timer to split his study into chunks. He named it after a tomato as he used a tomato shaped kitchen timer to time his study chunks. Whilst the basic principles are clear, you can of course adapt them to suit your own patterns. In 2015 Paul A Klipp, founder of the popular task management tool Kanbanery, explained to Quora users how he makes the Pomodoro Technique work for him:

‘You might think that a person could do 16 of these cycles in a day…I’m lucky to get more than two in a day without interruptions. But in those 50 minutes I get more done than I do in the other seven hours of my work day, at least in terms of advancing the most important aspects of my most important projects.’

As well as helping you to focus on your study periods, the Pomodoro Techniquer can be used in other areas of your life to maximise your time. Dorie Clark teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and uses it herself to improve productivity in her work days:

‘I now periodically schedule email “sprints” of 20–25 minutes (following the Pomodoro Technique) to focus on more complicated emails during morning times, when I’m mentally clearest.’

It’s all about spaced repetition, just like Synap!

Spaced repetition is also one of the core principles of the Synap method. Synap allows you to create your own multiple choice questions which you can then practice in manageable chunks whenever and wherever is convenient. You could even try combining the two methods by setting yourself a Pomodoro task of completing 25 minutes of questions on Synap, followed by a short break to refresh your mind, then start again.


    sounds good 🙂 I’ll try it out xx