How Long Does the SAT Take?
When it comes to the SAT, few factors are as important as time. From carefully scheduled prep work to pacing yourself in each section of the test, you’ll be paying a lot of attention to time as it pertains to your SAT. You’ll even need to consider the exact timing of your test date, to ensure you’re there when you need to be without any hassles.
Don’t miss this post to learn more about how long the SAT takes, what time it starts, and when to arrive at the SAT testing center.
How Long is the SAT? How About Each Section of the SAT?
|Subject||Test time||Break time||Total|
|Reading||65 minutes||10 minutes||75 minutes|
|Writing||25 minutes||25 minutes|
|Math – no calculator||25 minute||5 minutes||30 minutes|
|Math – calculator||55 minutes||55 minutes|
|Essay (optional)*||50 minutes||50 minutes|
|Complete SAT||3 hours 50 minutes||15 minutes||4 hours 5 minutes|
*Note that there is an informal 2-minute break between the Math and optional Essay sections.
What Time Do I Need to Arrive for the SAT?
Punctuality is a necessity when it comes to SAT day. If you arrive late, you won’t be allowed in, so you need to know exactly when the cutoff is.
The good news is that the SAT is always administered at the same local time, so you can always expect to have the same check-in time, no matter what time zone you’re in. The CollegeBoard recommends that you arrive at your testing center no later than 7:45AM.
It’s a better idea to get there even earlier, though, to account for any lines or registration snafus. We recommend that you aim to be there by 7:30 to avoid any last minute rushes, which might lead to anxiety. To learn more about test taking anxiety and how you can beat it, check out our post 10 Ways to Overcome Test Taking Anxiety. Things do come up however, so just know that doors to testing rooms close at 8:00AM.
What Time Does the SAT Start?
The exact time that you begin taking your SAT is never determined in advance. Instead, it varies according to how long it takes each testing center to complete registration, seat students, and distribute testing materials.
Most SATs begin between 8:30-9:00AM. Once testing has begun, students will no longer be admitted.
What Time Does the SAT End?
There may not be a strict start time, but once testing begins, timing becomes very rigid. The entire test takes three hours to complete without the optional essay, or three hours and 50 minutes with the optional essay, not including breaks.
Remember, the time that the test actually begins can vary slightly from one center to another, and this determines when your test will end. Allowing time for 15 minutes of formal breaks and another couple of minutes for reading directions between each section, you can expect to finish the SAT without essay anytime between 11:45AM and 12:30PM.
If you choose to complete the essay, you’ll stay for another 50 minutes to complete this section. As such, students writing the optional essay can expect to finish up between 12:30 and 1:30PM.
How to Plan Ahead for SAT Test Day
It’s a good idea to let your SAT be your only commitment on testing day to allay any concerns about what time your test ends or any other schedule constraints.
The first step to success on SAT day is getting out of bed. Seriously, though, you need to make sure you have an alarm set and a backup plan, like asking your parents to wake you if you aren’t up by your set time.
To figure out exactly what time this should be, work back from an ideal ETA of 7:30AM at the testing center. Account for the time it will take you to get to the testing center (and allow a buffer for traffic or detours just to be safe), and consider how much time you’ll need to get up, dressed, fed, and out the door.
Packing your backpack can be done the night before your exam. To learn more about what you need to pack, check out our post What Should I Bring to My SAT?.
Time Management Strategies for the SAT
- Use the two-passes strategy for difficult questions — meaning that you’ll answer the easier questions first, before going back to tackle the more challenging ones. (After the first pass, skip the question and mark it to return to later.)
- If you can’t eliminate even one answer, just guess. There’s no longer a penalty for guessing, so you won’t lose points. The frequency of responses is roughly evenly distributed, so it’s a good idea to keep using the same letter for answers that require blind guessing, because then you’re likely to be correct around 25 percent of the time.
- Review the directions and format thoroughly before the test. That way, you won’t have to waste time familiarizing yourself with the test on the day of, when time is of the essence.
- Wear a watch. You won’t be able to have your phone out during the test, so having a watch handy will help you keep track of time.
- Practice, practice, practice. Do so using the same time constraints as the ones you’ll have to face on test. The more you practice using these limits, the more comfortable you’ll be with the actual exam.
Check out How to Pace Yourself on Every Section of the SAT for more time-management strategies.
What to Do if You Run Out of Time
If you’re at risk of running out of time, make sure you’ve tackled as many of the questions you know you can answer without much difficulty first. As you go along, if you really have no idea about the answer to a question, guess immediately. If you can eliminate one or more responses, then write down a possible answer and mark the question to return to later.
Keep careful track of the ones you skip (if you don’t, you’ll risk filling in your answer sheet incorrectly, which could be disastrous). Pay attention to the time warnings, and when you’re nearing the end of the test, go back and guess on the remaining questions. Remember to guess the same letter consistently if you really have no idea on a question; guess the same letter each time gives you a higher chance of getting the answer right (25%) than picking a different letter every question.
For additional tips about the night before and day of the exam, check out our post How to Prepare for the SAT: A 24-Hour Countdown.
Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
Wondering how your SAT score impacts your chances of acceptance at your dream school? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to gain access to our data-driven chancing engine. We’ll use your standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, the strength of your transcript, and a host of other factors to give you your chances of acceptance at over 500 colleges.
Want more SAT tips sent to you?
Sign up below and we'll send you expert SAT tips and guides.