How Long Is the SAT? Tips to Manage Your Time Wisely
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- Students should practice and stay focused to excel on the SAT.
- Building test-taking skills for each section can boost your time management abilities.
- Taking timed practice tests can help you develop a personalized test-taking strategy.
The SAT assesses students' reading, math, and writing abilities. Many U.S. colleges and universities use applicants' SAT scores during the admissions process.
Although a number of colleges introduced temporary or permanent test-optional policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, test-optional schools may still encourage students to submit SAT scores so they can award scholarships and determine placement.
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If you're planning to take the SAT, it's important you understand the exam's format and find the time management strategies that work best for you.
How Long Is the SAT Test?
The SAT is a three-hour test. There are two breaks during the exam: one 10-minute break after the first section (Reading) and one five-minute break after the third section (Math — No Calculator). Including breaks, the SAT is exactly three hours and 15 minutes long.
Some test-takers may have an additional fifth section after the final Math section. This experimental section tests potential SAT questions for future exams.
While this fifth section does not affect test-takers' scores, it does extend the testing time by 20 minutes. Additionally, if your test includes a fifth section, you'll receive a two-minute break following the final Math section.
Test-takers with disabilities may request to receive extended test and break times. However, be aware that testing with extended time requires you to stay the entire amount of time. This means you cannot leave early, even if you finish the test before the time expires.
You can view eligibility requirements at the College Board website.
How Many Questions Are on the SAT?
There are four sections on the SAT, consisting of a total of 154 questions. The College Board eliminated the SAT's optional Essay section in 2021, except where state law requires schools to include the essay when administering the SAT during a school day.
This table shows the sections' breakdown:
|Section||Number of Questions||Time||Time per Question|
|1. Reading||52||65 minutes||75 seconds|
|2. Writing and Language||44||35 minutes||48 seconds|
|3. Math — No Calculator||20||25 minutes||75 seconds|
|4. Math — Calculator||38||55 minutes||87 seconds|
Source: The College Board
4 SAT Time Management Tips and Strategies
Experts recommend that students start preparing for the SAT at least 1-3 months before test day. The following time management tips apply to the entire SAT, not just one section.
Answer the Easiest Questions First
Answer the questions you're sure about first. This will help maximize your score because you'll get all the raw points for those correct answers. With this strategy, you'll also have time left over to work on the more difficult questions.
Use the Process of Elimination
As you scan each question, cross off answers you know are wrong. When you return to those questions, you'll have a better chance of choosing the right answer.
If you're pressed for time, the process of elimination can help you make your best educated guess on the most difficult questions. Remember that you won't lose points for wrong answers, so always put something down, even if you have to guess.
Leave Yourself Time to Return to Questions You Skipped
Be sure to move quickly through the questions you can easily answer so that you have enough time left to return to skipped questions. If you cannot answer a question, make your best educated guess and move on.
Completely lost? Pick one answer choice (such as A) and use it on every guess.
Use All the Time You're Given
Do not close your test booklet until time is called. Use any extra time to go back and check your answers.
There is no penalty for wrong answers on the SAT, so focus first on the questions where you made educated guesses. You may see clues you missed the first time.
How to Manage Your Time for Each SAT Section
As you prepare for the SAT, work on time management skills for each test section and the general strategies we've discussed.
The Reading section contains 52 questions and five reading passages. These passages cover literature, science, and history/social studies. You'll have, on average, 75 seconds to answer each question; however, you'll also need to make time to skim the passages.
- Mark important points in the text as you skim-read.
- Take brief notes on the passage.
- Read the in-context vocabulary sentences carefully to discern the word's meaning in that particular passage.
- Prepare for this section by reading a variety of material.
Writing and Language Section
The Writing and Language section consists of 44 questions and lasts 35 minutes. This gives you around 48 seconds to answer each question. You must look for errors and revise phrases and sentences in four reading passages.
- Remember that the SAT uses standard, not informal, English.
- Expect to see charts and graphs in at least some passages.
- Pace yourself so you can read the questions and answer choices carefully.
- Watch for tricky word combinations.
The first Math section prohibits calculator use. You'll answer 20 questions in 25 minutes, giving you around 75 seconds per question. You may use a calculator in the second Math section. On that, you'll get 55 minutes to answer 38 questions, or about 87 seconds per question.
- You'll solve problems more quickly by memorizing basic math formulas.
- Save time by using your calculator only when necessary.
- Reserve time for solving difficult problems.
- Bring an approved calculator and make sure it's charged.
Figuring Out the Right Pace for You
By far one of the best ways to prepare for the SAT is to take timed SAT practice tests. Through these, you can determine your biggest strengths and weaknesses and learn where to focus your SAT prep efforts.
Even if you've taken the PSAT, carve out time to take practice tests, read prep books, and use online SAT prep resources before taking the exam. Be sure to start early, ideally at least 1-3 months before your test date.
You can use the results from your timed practice tests to identify which SAT sections take you longer to complete and which subject areas may need further review. Use practice questions from those sections to build your skills and confidence.