How Long Is The SAT? (3 Tips For Effective Time Management)

Aria Miller
Published by Aria Miller
Last Updated On: December 18, 2021

The SAT is around three hours long if you don't take the SAT essay and three hours and 50 minutes long otherwise. Though this might seem like more than enough time, it runs out fast.

If you want to devise an effective strategy and get into your dream college, read our brief guide to the SAT schedule.

How Long is the SAT?

A woman writing SAT essay

First things first - how long is the SAT test exactly? Including breaks, the SAT takes 195 minutes without the essay. Convert that to hours, and you’re looking at 3 hours and 15 minutes if you don’t write the essay.

The essay is optional on the new SAT test. If you write it, your test will take 4 hours and 5 minutes in total.

Students often think it’s their high school that decides how long the SAT test takes. In reality, it’s the College Board, and the same rules apply to all students.

The test and time are split between four sections: reading, writing and language, math, and the essay. The math section is divided into two sections, with and without the calculator.

How Do I Know How Much Time I Have Left?

Each testing group is assigned with a proctor that announces the total time you have left during each section.

Usually, your proctor will notify you when you’ve used approximately half of your time. You’ll also get an additional warning when you’re approaching the final 5-minute part of your test.

Here’s how much time you’ll get per each section of the SAT [1]:

Sections Time
Reading section 65 minutes
Writing and Language section 35 minutes
Math (No Calculator) section 25 minutes
Math (Calculator) section 55 minutes
Essay (optional) section Optional 50 minutes


Without the essay, the SAT test has 154 questions in total. The optional essay is written based on only one question so, if you decide to take it, you’re looking at 155 questions.

Here’s how many seconds you’ll get per each question:

Sections Number of questions Time per question (seconds)
Reading section 52 75
Writing and Language section 44 48
Math (No Calculator) section 20 75
Math (Calculator) section 38 87
Essay section 1 3000

When Can I Take Breaks?

A man checking his backpack

Students aren’t allowed to take breaks whenever they want. The College Board schedules the breaks in advance, and you’ll get three breaks in total (or two if you’re not taking the SAT essay):

  1. a 10-minute break after the Reading section
  2. a 5-minute break after the Math (No Calc) section
  3. a 2-minute break after the Math (Calc) section

If you’re not taking the essay, you don’t have to stay during the third break—you may just leave.

When Should I Arrive at the Test Center?

Generally, the doors open at 7:45 a.m. on test day. Students must get there by that time or 8 a.m. at the latest. After that, the doors officially close and no late test takers are admitted, so make sure you’re there early.

Just in case, check your admission ticket to confirm that your test center doesn’t have special rules or time of opening. If you arrive late (or don’t arrive at all), your college chances aren’t ruined yet as there is no limit on how many times you can take the SAT. Just reschedule your SAT with your test center.

Note that test centers are required to follow local public health guidelines during the pandemic. If they fail to do so or have any reason for concern, they may close before the administration.

What Time Does the SAT Start and End?

Usually, the SAT starts sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m and ends around noon if you’re not taking the essay and around 1 p.m. if you are.

The College Board didn’t define the exact starting time defined. It depends on how long it takes you and other students to check in with your admission tickets and IDs, find your assigned room and seat, and leave your belongings outside of the testing room if needed.

When you and other students in your testing group are seated, your proctor will hand out the tests and give further instructions. You’ll also have to fill out some personal details before you start the test.

3 Tips for Effective Time Management on the Test

A woman taking notes with laptop

Mostly, students have only one question: How long is the SAT? 

They often forget to ask How do I make the most out of it? 

To make sure you get a high score, you need to do some test prep—and we’re not just talking about studying. You need to practice how you’ll manage your time during the test. We’ve got 3 tips for you.

1. Take Practice Tests to Prepare Early

To avoid surprises and skyrocket your college admissions changes on the day of the SAT, take practice tests and learn from the best SAT prep books. You can find several free and paid practice tests online and solve them under real-life conditions.

Besides that, you may also ask your teachers to provide relevant examples of questions or previous tests.

There are several benefits students gain from taking practice tests:

  • You’ll get acquainted with the organization and structure of the test.
  • You’ll know exactly how many minutes you currently need per section.
  • You’ll understand what you’ll be expected to do on the real SAT.

Recommended Article: When to Take the SAT?

2. Solve the Easy Questions First

The easy questions are the ones you can answer (almost) immediately. Solve them first to ensure they’re done before you have to hand in your paper. Otherwise, you risk leaving the easy questions unanswered and waste time and focus trying to think of answers to the hard questions:

"I think [students] are spending too much time early on second-guessing themselves, going back and forth, and before they know it, they've lost that time."


- Joe Korfmacher, director of college counseling at Collegewise[2]

3. Check Your Answers

If you have a minute or two left, go through the test again and check your answers.

That’s how you’ll ensure you won't lose any points on silly mistakes such as checking the wrong box. Students are more prone to giving hasty and incorrect answers as their attention decreases. This often happens on comprehensive and long tests such as the SAT. To combat these negative consequences, go through the test once again. It’ll pay off.

The Bottom Line

Though students often feel like the SAT lasts for eternity, it takes only three or four hours in total. What’s more, you’ll get only up to 87 seconds (just over a minute) per question if we don’t count the essay.

That means you can’t waste a minute on your test day. You need an effective strategy that will help you maximize your SAT score and your chances of getting into the college you want. To ensure that, get familiar with your SAT schedule and test in advance and build your focus by practicing at home.


  1. https://blog.collegeboard.org/how-long-does-the-sat-take#:~:text=How%20Do%20I%20Know%20How,given%20with%205%20minutes%20remaining.
  2. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2019-02-22/how-long-the-sat-is-and-how-to-manage-that-time

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