Attention and Focus

The ability to attend to incoming information can be observed, broken down into a variety of sub-skills, and improved through cognitive training.

There are three primary types of attention:

  • Sustained Attention: the ability to remain focused, on task for an increasing length of time.
  • Selective Attention: the ability to remain focused and on task while being distracted.
  • Divided Attention: the ability to remember information while performing a mental operation.

Training focus and attention begins with practice times of short duration with gradual increase in the length of time. The level of the challenge and intensity increases as success builds. Other factors include the use of a metronome, distractions, and the ever-important use of the stop watch to time the practice exercise. The goal is to be able to function at a high level in short amounts of time – by beating the clock. Students need to train to be able to pay attention long enough to get the information and immediately do something with that information!


The Stroop Effect (which is the name given to the experience of an individual who takes the test) shows that our brains process seemingly conflicting information differently than they process more straightforward information. This is selective attention. The exercise – also with directional color arrows – is easily found on the Internet.

  • Call out the WORD as quickly as possible
  • Call out the actual COLOR as quickly as possible

A metronome is an important training tool in building focus and attention. Color and directional arrows and color words and even mental math called out to the beat – help to imbed skills and improve processing speed and concentration.

An equally important goal is to make the use of a timer/stopwatch and timed exercises fun. It is important to work toward a certain goal, attempting to beat previous scores/times. This follows a sports analogy very closely – keep practicing to improve your skills and beat your previous best time! The object is to make the transition from those “scary” timed exercises (like the dreaded math speed tests for students) to “I CAN do this!”

With better attention one can:


  • stay on task for sustained periods of time
  • focus on a task without being distracted by other things
  • attend to two activities at once – like listening and taking notes
  • shift from one task to another quickly and efficiently
  • plan and finish long term projects

Knowles, Liz. “DIY Cognitive Fitness.” 2019.