The SAT is one of the two standardized college-readiness examinations that high school students must take if they want to apply to college, the other being the ACT. The SAT test has been around for decades, and most high school students are aware that they'll need to not only take the test but spend a good amount of time studying for it as well. The SAT is quite a long test, and preparing for this test by knowing what to expect on test day can increase your chances of getting a better score.

How Long Is the SAT?

According to PrepScholar, the SAT is a long test at 180 minutes. This does not include the time it would take to do the optional essay portion. Excluding this essay portion, there are four sections on the test. These are Reading, Writing and Language, Math (No Calculator), Math (Calculator). Each section is a different length of time:

  • Reading: 65 minutes
  • Writing and Language: 35 minutes
  • Math (No Calculator): 25 minutes
  • Math (Calculator): 55 minutes

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SAT Essay Time

If you decide to take the optional essay section of the SAT test, this will add on another 50 minutes on to your entire test time. The essay is, of course, not required, but it might be a good idea for students who want to demonstrate their skills in this area.

The essay portion of the SAT is graded separately from the rest of the test, therefore, there's no way for you to boost your score on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section simply by doing well on your essay. But if you do do well on your essay and score at least a six out of eight on each of the three scoring categories (Reading, Analysis and Writing), then according to PrepScholar, this can certainly boost the quality of your college application overall.

How Much Time Per Question?

Despite the fact that the SAT is technically a long test at 180 minutes (plus an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay), you actually do not have too much time to complete it. This is due to the amount of questions there are per section, according to PrepScholar. It's important to know this information before going into the test because it will give you a better idea about how to prepare and pace yourself:

  • Reading: 52 questions, breaking down to one minute, 15 seconds per question
  • Writing and Language: 44 questions, breaking down to 47 seconds per question
  • Math (No Calculator): 20 questions, breaking down to one minute, 15 seconds per question
  • Math (Calculator): 38 questions, breaking down to one minute, 26 seconds per question

It's important to keep in mind that even if you whiz through each question, you cannot skip from one section to another. For instance, if you finish with one section, you cannot start the next section until the proctor tells you that you can.

That being said, you can skip over questions within each section if you're having a hard time with a specific question. But since there is no guess penalty on the new SAT, then it's advisable that you at least make a guess.

Are There Breaks During the SAT?

With a test that's 180 minutes long, you might be wondering if there's a such thing as "SAT breaks." Luckily, there are several breaks throughout the SAT, so you can have some time to take a breath and get yourself together before the next section starts.

If you're not taking the essay section on the SAT, then you'll have two breaks during the test. If you're taking the essay section, then you'll have three breaks during the test, according to PrepScholar.

The first break is 10 minutes long and comes after the first section, the Reading section. The next break is five minutes long and comes after Writing and Language and the Math (No Calculator) section. The last break is two minutes long and comes in between the Math (Calculator) section and the optional essay section. If you're not taking the essay section, then you can leave the test at this time.

About SAT Breaks

As you can see, the amount of time you get for a break during the SAT isn't very long. Thankfully, you can use these breaks to do whatever you need, within reason. During the 10 minute and five minute breaks, you are permitted to leave the class and use the bathroom if needed, or take a walk. You can also eat a snack or drink water. But you may not use any electronic devices, according to PrepScholar.

If you're staying around to take the essay portion of the test, then you will have a two minute break before the essay section starts. However, during this break, you can't leave the classroom. Instead, you can just stand up or do some stretches or meditation at your desk.

How Many SAT Hours in the Entire Test?

In addition to the 180 minutes you must sit for the test, along with the optional 50 minute essay section, the entire SAT is actually much longer than three hours and 50 minutes. In fact, with the essay section, the entire test is more than four hours because you also need to take into account breaks and the amount of time it takes for the proctor to hand out the test in the beginning.

According to PrepScholar, the SAT test always starts at 8 a.m. Even though high school students are used to getting up early in the morning for school, getting up early for a four-hour long test is an entirely different ball park. To prepare for the test, it's necessary that you get a good night's sleep the night before, and eat a healthy breakfast in the morning.

You also should make sure to arrive early, between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., to ensure that you're not late. The test will officially start between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. by the time the proctor reads through everything. The test will then finish sometime around noon for those not taking the essay section.

When Does the SAT End?

When the SAT ends depends on a few factors, for instance, when the timer actually started on the first section of the test and whether or not you are taking the essay section. If you're not taking the essay section, then you can leave when the Math (Calculator) section ends, as this is the last section for you.

However, if you're taking the optional essay section, then you will be given a two minute break at the end of the Math (Calculator) section, and then you will have another 50 minutes to complete the section. When that 50 minutes is over, and the proctor collects your test, you can leave.

How to Prepare for the SAT Time

Now that you know how long the SAT will take, it's important that you prepare for it. And this doesn't mean preparing for the test in terms of studying but preparing for the SAT length itself.

It's one thing to be ready for the content and questions you're going to face, but it's another to actually sit down for more than three hours to take the test. The good news is there are some strategies you can use to prepare:

  • Take the PSAT because this will help you get an idea of what to expect on test day.
  • When taking practice tests, time yourself to see how long it's taking you per question.
  • Familiarize yourself with test-taking strategies, for instance, knowing when to skip over a question, and come back to it when you're spending too much time on it.
  • Practice some meditation and stretching techniques that you can do during your test breaks as this will boost your energy.
  • Be aware of your water intake during the test because too much water can cause you to need the bathroom, which can be distracting while you're taking the test.
  • Get sufficient rest the week leading up to the test.
  • Don't cram for the test. You should spend several months studying for the SAT.

About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.