Maintain your study focus for the FE exam by using the Pomodoro Method
So you’re excited to start your FE exam preparation. You gathered all the right resources. You have an NCEES FE exam approved Calculator. You have the latest NCEES FE Handbook 10.1.
You are ready to study! You are committed to studying. But somehow your studying isn’t going as you expected.
You can’t focus
You can’t concentrate
You are getting easily distracted.
On top of that, you put in 2 hours of study time but you can’t seem to remember anything you just studied. You did not absorb the majority of the new information you just covered.
Here is a question you should be asking yourself:
Did you really absorb 2 hours worth of information?
You may have replied to your brother’s text message. Or went on twitter to check those tweets. Or checked that LinkedIn notification to see what’s going on.
Are these small distractions preventing you from staying focused? Are they lessening the quality of your FE exam prep time? Most importantly, are they not allowing you to absorb the information you just learned in a way where you feel like you are actually making progress?
We think so.
You’re trying your best. It’s not like you don’t know what to do to accomplish your study goals. It’s just, something gets in the way. You are getting too easily distracted.
Let’s get straight to the point.
How do you get over these distractions, procrastination and increase productivity in your day-to-day FE exam prep schedule?
The Pomodoro Technique
This study technique was invented by Francesco Circello. It is named after a tomato-shaped kitchen time. It is used to mark ‘productivity’ blocks, or in our case study blocks.
The technique is designed to force you to focus on a series of very short study blocks followed by mandatory breaks.
How the Pomodoro Technique Works
Every ‘focus block’ is called ‘a Pomodoro.’
- Decide on a study task: know what you need to accomplish before you set the timer.
- Example: Begin covering Analytic Geometry course practice problems by attempting problems on my own then referring to the video solution
- Example: Read through the conceptual lesson notes while also taking my own equation sheet and summary notes
- Use restroom, get water/snacks, anything that may cause you to want to get up once you begin.
- Tidy up your work space and remove all distractions. Put your phone on airplane mode or off. Set blocking apps on your phone or computer or leave them in another room. You can note down on a sheet of paper a list of distractions that you want to avoid. If something can be done really quickly, do it and come back to your desk.
- Set the timer to 25 minutes (FE exam revised options are discussed below).
- Dive deep into your task with 100% focus for the designated time period.
- When the timer goes off: TAKE A MANDATORY BREAK!
- 5 minutes after the first 3 pomodoros
- 10-15 minutes after 4 pomodoros
- Repeat steps 1 through 6 until your full study block is over.
The Issue with Pomodoro Technique When it comes to the FE exam
As you may have noticed, this pomodoro method when followed exactly requires you to be 100% focused for 25 minutes with a 5-minute break after the first 3 pomodoros and a 10-15 minute break after the fourth Pomodoro.
There’s a problem though.
For the 5 hour and 20 minute FE exam, THIS IS NOT nearly enough for the FE exam style endurance.
When we think about the structure of the FE exam, we certainly can’t take breaks as frequently.
Given this fact, I often urge my students to study for 60 to 150 minutes before taking a break.
The FE exam will require you to be ultra-focused for about 160 minutes (2.5 and 10 minutes) for the first section, followed by a 25-minute break, then focused again for 160 minutes for the second section.
So for FE students, I recommend an adjusted version of the pomodoro study technique.
Please remember. If you have been out of school for so long and if you’re just starting out then you likely don’t have your endurance built up. Start with 25 minutes. This is not a lot but you can allow for that in the beginning.
If you’re not sure that your endurance will last longer than 25 minutes after 2 or 3 blocks then yes, definitely begin with shorter blocks. Overtime, you should gradually increase your full focused study time block with a goal of committing to 60 to 150 minutes before taking a break.
You MUST Avoid Distractions!
I will keep repeating this:
You cannot study and be distracted at the same time!
Yeah, you might argue that it only took you 10 seconds to read and 10 seconds to reply to that text message.
But that 20 second distraction just pulled your mind right out of the zone. Now you will have to see where you left off, recall what you just covered and re-focus – it’s almost like you are starting from scratch!
Below is a list of Apps to help you focus and block distractions. These tell your phone or computer, to block certain website or a certain amount of time or to only allow you to access certain websites during your study session.
- Freedom for Windows, Mac, Iphone, Ipad. This can sync blocks across all devices.
- StayFocusd Chrome extension
- FocusMe for Windows, Mac, and Android
- HeyFocus Mac
- Strict Workflow Chrome extension
Have you ever tried applying this Pomodoro study technique? A recent student who passed her FE exam using the directhub FE exam course found it really helpful! Check out what she had to say:
I passed the FE Civil exam last month after graduating in 2017. I believe passing the exam also helped me big time to a couple of job interviews and I have already worked my first week as a Jr. Water Resources Engineer. I applied before passing the exam for a good few months, but no success in getting job interviews. I took your prep course last summer and I believe it helped me review a lot of the material along with FE Prep for more practice problems, and studying by using one of the pomodoro techniques. I appreciate that you were able to communicate within a reasonable amount of time in your prep course when I had a question or comment. Thank you again, Farouq!”Joana – EIT