How Long Is the SAT? 2023 Ultimate Guide

Are you planning to take the SAT soon? 

Before taking the exam, it is essential for you to know the SAT time limit as this is an essential part of your test preparation. In taking the SAT, you need to know more than just how to answer the questions and score high. It’s also crucial that you learn strategies for time management and pacing.

In this SAT time breakdown, we will answer the question: How long is the SAT test? We will identify the SAT time per section and how you can use the time to answer the test more efficiently. 

How long does the SAT take?

The SAT has three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The Math section consists of 2 tests: with a calculator and without. The SAT test length is 180 minutes or 3 hours, excluding the time for breaks. 

The optional Essay section, on the other hand, runs for 50 minutes. 

Below is the detailed breakdown of the times per SAT section:

Section Time allotment Number of questions
Reading 65 minutes 52
Writing and Language 35 minutes 44
Math – no calculator 25 minutes 20
Math – calculator 55 minutes 38
Essay (optional) 50 minutes 1 essay

What time does the SAT start?

The SAT begins around 8:30 to 9:00 am, depending on how long the preliminary procedure and reading of instructions will take. The testing center doors open at 7:45 am and close at exactly 8 am. 

Once you get inside the testing room, your electronic devices (except your calculator) and your bag will first be collected by the proctor. As soon as everyone is settled down and seated, the test materials are then distributed and the instructions read. 

Breaks during the SAT

Students need to take a break, especially during an intense and lengthy exam like the SAT. How long is the SAT with breaks included? 

The first break is 10 minutes long and will take place between the Reading section and the Writing and Language section. The next break, which is 5 minutes, will be between the two Math sections. 

For those taking the Essay section, a 2-minute break will be given after the Math test. 

Here is the SAT test time breakdown including the breaks:

Order Section Time allocation
1 Reading 65
2 Break 1 10
3 Writing and Language 35
4 Math – no calculator 25
5 Break 2 5
6 Math – calculator 55
7 Break 3 2
8 Essay (optional) 50

You can use the breaks to leave the room, eat a snack, or use the restroom. 

Most testing centers include an additional experimental section as the last section on the SAT (1). This is for pretesting purposes. Do not worry much about it, though, for this section is NOT counted in the scoring process.

When will you finish the SAT?

The SAT time length is 3 hours and the breaks run for 15 minutes total. If you take the Essay section, you should finish between 12:15 and12:45 pm, depending on the time spent on the preliminary procedure and reading of instructions. If you are taking the Essay section, you should finish between 1:00 and 1:30 pm. 

Once your exam has concluded, the proctor will return your electronic devices and bag. 

How can you prepare for the lengthy SAT?

If you choose to take the Essay section, the SAT would take you nearly 4 hours to finish it. This is pretty long and will feel even longer when you’re nervous. What are the things that you can do to prepare for the long and intense SAT and to keep anxiety at bay?

Answer full-length practice tests

One of the most effective ways to prepare for the SAT is to answer full-length practice tests (2). These will help you get a good grasp of the actual test structure. Also, you will learn how to manage your time properly and efficiently so you can answer all the questions within the given timeframe. 

In answering SAT practice tests, it would be better to use official practice tests provided by the College Board. This is because the questions are similar to those of the actual standardized test. 

You should also answer newly released official practice tests. Doing so will give you an idea of the latest structure and flow. 

Time yourself

When answering a full-length practice test, time yourself. Now that you know how much time is allocated per section and the entire SAT, you can pace yourself accordingly. It is also recommended that you take breaks just like during the actual SAT. 

Timing yourself during the practice test will let you know how fast you can answer a certain section. If you find the allotted time insufficient, you can make adjustments to your answering process beforehand. 

With the given SAT test time and the number of questions per section, you will be able to calculate the average time per question, in which you can pattern your pace. 

Here is the average time you per question in each section:

Section Time allotment Number of questions Time per question
Reading 65 minutes 52 1 minute and 15 seconds
Writing and Language 35 minutes 44 47 seconds
Math – no calculator 25 minutes 20 1 minute and 15 seconds
Math – calculator 55 minutes 38 1 minute and 26 seconds

Put into practice, you will be able to answer the SAT more efficiently. 

Time management on the SAT

Say, you are answering the actual SAT, how are you going to manage your time? 

According to US News (3), one of the most effective ways to take the SAT is to answer the easy questions first. Then, you can go back to the harder ones later. This way, you can allot more time to the more difficult questions. 

Experts also suggest that you use a watch to monitor your pace. Knowing the time given per section, you will be able to manage your time better. 

Stamina will also play a huge role in the SAT. The old SAT consisted of 10 small sections. In today’s standardized admissions test, subjects are distributed into four large sections. In answering questions in each section, it will be important for you to not only answer the questions quickly but to also keep the same pace throughout the test. 

Final thoughts

Now that you know how long the SAT takes, you can prepare for the test more efficiently and effectively. Being aware of the breakdown of the SAT exam time is going to be important for you. The SAT is a lengthy test, but always remember to stay relaxed and confident. Aside from your knowledge of concepts and theories, your time management will be crucial in attaining your goals on the SAT.