How Long is The SAT And How To Manage Yourself During The Test

For many students, the SAT may seem like an eternity, but the exam lasts only three hours.

That time does not include one 10-minute break and one five-minute break. Experts say how you manage the time is vital to earning a high score.

Remember this, do not think the clock is your enemy; just understand how to work it.

Studying for the SAT is not just about practicing math problems and passage reading—it's also training in timing and progressing. The magnitude of the SAT, as well as its challenging content, can make it a terrifying challenge.

Learn about our guide to the SATs length,  individual section times, and section order. Also, learn how to deal with tiredness and burnout during the test.

Comprehensive Guide: SAT Test Length 

Overall, the SAT is three hours (180 minutes) long, excluding the optional essay and breaks. With the optional essay, the overall test time increases to three hours and 50 minutes.

Check out the summary of the SAT test length:

The only section separated into two parts is the Math section: a No Calculator and a Calculator section. As you can see in the above table, the No Calculator section comes first and asks 20 questions in 25 minutes. On the other hand, the Calculator section comes second and asks 38 questions in 55 minutes. Collectively, you'll get 58 questions and 80 minutes for Math.

You will also get a total of three breaks, two if you're not taking the optional Essay:

  • A 10-minute break after the Reading section but before the Writing and Language section
  • A five-minute break after the Math (No-Calculator) section but before the Math (Calculator section)
  • A short two-minute break after the Math (Calculator section) if you are waiting for the Essay section, or else you are done, and you may leave.

It is Not Just The Length of The SAT But Also The Intensity

The SAT is a lengthy test—more than four hours, from check-in to the end (if you will take the essay)! Nevertheless, you will feel as though it moves pretty quickly because of the number of questions you have to answer in each section.

Let’s have a look at the number of questions you'll have on each SAT section. Also, we’ll look at the estimated time you'll have to answer each question:

Even though your estimated time per question is habitually more than a minute, the actual SAT things will be a little more complicated.

Remember this important thing, you are always likely to move through more straightforward questions much more quickly, and you’ll always need more time for more complex questions.

If you want to leave some time at the end of a section to check your answers, you'll have to spend less time on each question. Remember that you will also have to spend some time reading the Reading and Writing sections’ passages.

Besides that, see that stamina is incredibly essential. While the old SAT broke up the test into ten small sections, the new present SAT forces you to handle each subject in one large part.

 Two out of four sections are about an hour long. So you not only just have to move quickly from question-to-question, but also you need to maintain your speed for an extended period. Developing that kind of stamina takes practice!

How To Prepare Yourself For the Long SAT Exam

Below, I have mentioned three essential tips for preparing for the SAT exam length. These guidelines will help prepare for the test day and teach you how to stay focused during the exam.

Practice Full-Length SAT Tests

The most reliable way to prepare for the timing and intensity of the SAT is to take full-length, rigorously timed practice tests. You can start a habit by practicing this way and can get used to the SAT’s format and time, and you won’t get tired quickly in the actual test.

Always make sure you're using official practice tests, i.e., those created by the College Board. Don't follow old practice tests because they differ a lot from the current SAT structure. Remember to print out your test ahead of time and find a quiet, less-crowded place to take it, such as a library or your home.

While taking the test, time yourself as you'll be timed on the actual SAT. So, no giving yourself extra time on a section and no jumping ahead if you finish one early! You should always follow the table above and take the break according to the table.

Don’t Forget to Practice for tests on Weekends.

The most suitable time to take official SAT practice tests is on a Saturday or Sunday morning so you can get an accurate idea of what your energy level and mental ability will be like on the day of the actual test. 

Sure, it might be more comfortable to fit in a practice test late on a Sunday night, but you'll have to take the actual test in the morning, so you should exercise with that time in mind.

Imagine you're waking up for the actual test. Yes, I know waking up early and just sitting for the SAT practice test probably isn’t your ideal way to start a Saturday, but it’s the most reliable way to prepare for the actual SAT; sometimes, we have to make sacrifices. Also, it'll save your Saturday afternoon and evening for more fun activities!

Make Sure to Time Yourself on Individual Practice Sections

As you prepare for the different SAT sections, make sure to occasionally take a whole practice section with only the time you're given on the test.

For example, after a week of focusing on SAT Reading, what you can do is take one or two Reading practice tests and give yourself 65 minutes—the time you'll have on the actual exam for that section. Because of this, you can get used to the SAT’s timing and further build up your mental stamina so that you could excel in the SAT.


Go through our Ultimate guide that provides you the latest news on SAT dates (domestic and international) for 2021 and 2022.