How Long is The SAT?: Knowing What To Expect

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The SAT and/or the ACT are standardized college-readiness tests that are required by most colleges and universities. This means that at some point in your high school career (generally, junior year but some students also take it senior year), you’ll be preparing to take the SAT. The SAT is a timed test and the time constraints can sometimes put stress on the students taking the test. But, this guide will help you manage your expectations come SAT day and answer the burning question, “How long is the SAT?”



What is the SAT?


The SAT is a college-readiness exam administered by The College Board in the United States, that all U.S. colleges accept as part of their admissions requirements (though, there are some alternatives/exceptions). 


It’s a multiple-choice test that covers math and evidence-based reading and writing. There’s also an optional essay portion. The test is scored out of 1600 points, with the average score being 1060. 


Scoring high on this test will certainly increase your options of where to go to school, but it’s not the end all be all; if you’re not a good test taker, there are ways to prepare for the exam and do your best, and ways to get into college if you don’t. But it’s always a good idea to put in your best effort, and you can take the test more than once to increase your score.



How Long Does the SAT Take?


The SAT is a timed test. It’s three hours long, or 180 minutes, not including breaks. The essay portion — if you choose to do it — is another 50 minutes. 



SAT Length By Section


If you’re wondering how many questions are on the SAT and how much time per each, the SAT is broken up into individually timed sections. 


According to the Princeton Review, they state how many questions per section along with the average (suggested) time per question. While this doesn’t mean you can’t spend shorter or longer time on each question, it’s a good way to understand when it’s time to move forward if you can’t figure out the answer. 


  • Reading: 65-minute section with 52 questions (75 seconds per question)
  • Writing and Language: 35-minute section with 44 questions (about 48 seconds per question)
  • Math – No Calculator: 25-minute section with 20 questions (75 seconds per question)
  • Math – Calculator: 55-minute section with 38 questions (about 87 seconds per question)
  • Essay (optional): 50 minutes, one essay



Source: Pixabay



How Many Breaks Are There During the SAT?


Sitting through a three-hour test isn’t so easy, especially when it’s a test that plays a significant role in what choices you’ll have for college. Thankfully, there are breaks during the SAT. There are two breaks during the SAT, and three if you’re taking the essay section.



How Long Are Breaks During the SAT?


The breaks during the SAT are not very long, but they’ll give you an opportunity to stretch your legs, grab a drink of water, or maybe eat a little snack. (Be sure to take a look at the rules you must follow regarding breaks!) 



The breaks are as follows:

  • 10 minutes between the Reading and Writing and Language sections
  • 5 minutes between the Math – no calculator and Math – calculator sections
  • 2 minutes after the Math – calculator section if you’re going on to take the essay test.



What Time Do I Need to Arrive at the SAT?


Sorry, sleepyheads. The SAT starts at 8:00 a.m. on-the-dot in your local time zone. Therefore, you should aim to arrive at your testing center no later than 15 minutes before at 7:45 a.m. If you like to feel extra prepared, then aim to get there at 7:30, so you have some time to relax and get in the zone before the test starts.



When is the SAT Over?


The SAT is three hours long, but the time it ends can vary by test center. Generally, those who are not taking the essay portion should complete the test between 12:15 and 12:45 p.m., and those who are taking the essay portion should finish between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m.



How Do I Know How Much Time is Remaining?


Taking any test can be enough pressure on its own, but taking a test like this — along with the fact that it is timed — can be a lot of pressure, even for the most confident test-takers. 


One way to help you manage time constraints of the SAT would be to know how much time is remaining for each section. Typically, you’ll be given an update halfway through each section, and then five minutes before that section ends. When time is up, you’ll be told to stop working and put your pencil down. 



Source: Pixabay



Other Time Considerations


Now you know how to manage the basics when it comes to the timing of the SAT, there are other time considerations to be aware of, which can also help:



Travel Time


Test advice recommends that test-takers arrive no later than 7:45 on the morning of the test. This means that you’ll have to take into account the time it takes you to get to the testing center. Consider traffic, unpredictable events (for instance, bad weather or a crash that might hold you up), as well as how long it will take to find your way to the testing room. 


No matter who is driving you to the test — if it’s yourself or a guardian — it’s a good idea to rehearse the drive. It’s always better to get there early than late, because if you are late, you won’t be allowed into the testing room. 



What If I Need an Extension?


The College Board provides accommodations for those who need time extensions on the SAT. These range from time-and-a-half (50% of additional time) to 100% time extension over two days. There is even a 150% time extension in rare circumstances for those who require it. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself if you need to request more time. 



Time Management on the SAT


By having the test broken up into individually timed sections, you’ll have a little rigidity that will help you manage your time. Pay attention to the time-remaining cues that the proctor provides and try to keep track in your head. Or, bring a watch, but know that there are guidelines regarding the type of watch you can bring. Ultimately, try not to think about how much time is left, and just pace yourself appropriately.



What If I Run Out of Time?


If you run out of time on the SAT, don’t fret. It’s normal to not complete every question. Just try your best. Practice tests — like the PSAT — and timing yourself during your own practice/preparation sessions, can help you get used to the timing in the test.



How To Plan Ahead for SAT Day


Though the pressure of taking the SAT can certainly be overwhelming, there are many ways to try and plan ahead as much as possible. Study, utilize free SAT resources, and take the practice test if you can. If you’re able to, get a tutor or a mentor. But, most importantly, be kind to yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat well, and try to exercise and meditate during study sessions and especially the week leading up to the test. Good luck!


Not a Fan of the SAT?


As prepared as you might feel for a test like the SAT, a college-readiness exam isn’t for everyone. And, if you don’t do well on the SAT, it shouldn’t have to determine the rest of your life. Plenty of people are able to still get an education, regardless. The University of the People, for example, does not require the SAT or the GMAT for admission to our programs, which means you can have the same opportunity at earning a degree as everyone else! Best of all, we’re held entirely online and we are tuition-free!