Concentrating for 3 hours at a stretch can seem quite a daunting task, given that 2 hours 20 minutes seemed like forever in the previous format. But to be brutally honest, it is far less than what our minds are capable of (even in these days of T-20 and twitter and ten second attention spans). After all, tests like the GMAT last for over three hours and people manage perfectly fine.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will realise that our brains are basically extremely lazy chaps – so when we sit for a “140 minute test”, knowing that we have to concentrate for 140 minutes, by the time about 100 minutes are up, our brain is already thinking longingly about what to do when it gets over. And when we try to get our brains back on track, they tells us “look dude, I can’t concentrate for so long at a stretch. Give me a break already!” Effectively, we rationalise the laziness as incapability.
Another acquaintance of mine, who faced this issue, took a rather extreme approach to solve this issue. He sat down one day with a whole bunch of mock tests (2 hour full length tests of those days), with the stated intention of writing 3 in a row (i.e., he planned to sit for 6 hours at a stretch!). He lasted for over 5 hours before he had to give up. But his result was rather interesting. Normally, he used to see that his concentration (and scores!) would drop drastically towards the last 45 minutes of a test. But when he had committed himself to sitting for that long, he stayed fully focussed for more than 4 hours because his brain no longer was in anticipation of release. He scored excellently in the first two hour test – and remarkably, he exceeded that score in the second test! And of course, he never again faced a problem of stamina again – when one has once concentrated for 4+ hours running, one cannot very well perceive 2 hours as a significant strain!
While this was probably a rather extreme solution, it is certainly a good idea to at least get used to concentrating hard for three hours at a stretch. Next time you sit for a test at home, firstly eliminate all distractions (keep your phone, gmail, twitter, facebook etc off!). Secondly, make sure that you have no commitments for at least the next 5 hours. Thirdly, plan that immediately after finishing the test, you will take a section test. Give your mind as little opportunity for distraction as you possibly can. Just maybe, you will find that you can concentrate for 3 hours at a stretch after all.
In my next post, I’ll address a related question – should one do the sections in series or in parallel?