Can you imagine solving math problems for three hours? Or discussing social sciences for that amount of time? We were given literature critique to ponder and analyse for four hours. Frequently, it was a single question: is literature art or is it a social message? Or another question: when Flaubert wrote "Madame Bovary c'est moi?" what did he really mean? We had to remember our sources, quote our poets, explain a book or two, reference Rousseau or Racine. Four hours with a plain page of paper and a fountain pen!
In preparation for the baccalaureat, every French or Philosophy exam was 4 to 5 hours long, the others being 3 hours long. Oh the overtly, overstretched exam hours! I used to hide a red XL bag of Maltezers chocolates under the table, to entertain me and keep me awake.
In graduate school, they thought they were giving us a hard time by handing out take-home, 6 to 8 hours long, thought provoking essays and analysis. I was, by then, used to the "epreuves" of my boarding school. Those long hours of reflective introspection, of decisive interpretation. Similarly and without discounting the importance of my Ph.d comprehensive exams, I depended on my experience as a "bacheliere", otherwise translated as one who has earned her baccalaureat, to convey the knowledge I had accumulated for 13 years of schooling, as I was asked to do for the comprehensives, after 11 years of university.
When I am on the golf course, and we check in at the front desk, usually in haste before the T-time, we understand that we have four hours ahead of us. I think of my 11 year old son, who has become accustomed to this time frame before he has even tasted the baccalaureat preparation and its medley of 4 hour "epreuves", or exams.