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SAT General Info


Studying for the SAT isn’t just about practicing math problems and passage reading — it's also an exercise in timing and pacing. The sheer length of the SAT test, as well as its difficult content, can make it an intimidating challenge.

Read on for our guide to the SAT’s length, individual section times, and section ordering. Moreover, learn how to deal with fatigue during the test.

Detailed Guide: SAT Test Length

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

Here's an overview of the SAT test length:

The Math section is the only section separated into two pieces: a No Calculator and a Calculator section. As you can see, the No Calculator section comes first and asks 20 questions in 25 minutes, while the Calculator section comes second and asks 38 questions in 55 minutes. Altogether, then, you'll get 58 questions and 80 minutes for Math.

You'll 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 very short two-minute break  after the Math Calculator section (if you're staying for the Essay section, that is —otherwise, you're done and may leave!)

The SAT Isn't Just Long —It's Also Intense

The SAT is a long test — more than four hours, from check-in to the end (if you're doing the essay)! However, it can feel as though it moves fairly quickly because of the number of questions you have to answer on each section.

Here is an overview of the number of questions you'll have on each SAT section, in addition to the approximate time you'll have to answer each question:

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

First of all, you'll likely move through easier questions much more quickly and need more time for harder questions.

Secondly, if you want to leave time at the end of a section to check your answers, you'll have to spend less time on each question. Keep in mind that for the Reading and Writing sections, you will also have to spend some time reading the passages .

In addition, note that stamina is incredibly important. While the old SAT broke up the test into 10 small sections, the current SAT forces you to tackle each subject in one large chunk. Two out of four sections are just about an hour long.  So not only do you have to move quickly question-to-question, but you also need to maintain your test-taking speed for a long period of time. Building that kind of stamina takes practice!

How to Prepare for the SAT Exam Length: 3 Tips

Below, we go over our three best tips for preparing for the SAT exam length. These will help you feel prepared for test day and teach you how to stay focused during the exam.

#1: Take Full-Length SAT Practice Tests

The best way to prepare for the timing and intensity of the SAT is to take full-length, strictly timed practice tests .  This way, even if you're someone who easily gets tired during long stretches of testing, you can get used to the SAT’s format and time expectations.

Make sure you're using  official practice tests (i.e., those created by the College Board). Don't rely on old practice tests to help you out since these differ a lot from the current SAT structure. Be sure to print out your test ahead of time and find a quiet place to take it, such as a library.

As you take your test, time yourself as you'll be timed on the actual SAT.  This means no giving yourself extra time on a section and no skipping ahead if you finish one early! You should also take the breaks as described in the table at the beginning of this article.


You need to build up endurance and practice your pacing for the SAT —j ust like training for a race.

#2: Do Practice Tests on Weekends

The best time to take official SAT practice tests is on a Saturday or Sunday morning so you can get a good idea of what your energy level will be like the day of the actual test. Sure, it might be easier to fit in a practice test late on a Sunday night, but you'll have to take the real test in the morning, so you should practice with that time in mind.

Pretend you're waking up for the actual test. Waking up early and jumping into an SAT practice test probably isn’t your ideal way to start a Saturday,  but it’s the best way to be prepare for the actual SAT. Plus, it'll preserve your Saturday afternoon and evening for more fun activities!

#3: Time Yourself on Individual Practice Sections

As you study for the different SAT sections, make sure to periodically take an entire practice section with only the time you're given on the test.

For example, after a week of focusing on SAT Reading, take one or two Reading practice tests and give yourself 65 minutes — the time you'll have on the actual exam for that section. This will allow you to get used to the timing on the SAT and further  build up your test-taking stamina.

What’s Next?

Now that you know how long the test will take, read about the best places to take the SAT .

Want additional SAT help? Get tips on how to work quickly and save time during the SAT .

Preparing for test day?  Check out our top test-day tips so you can be both mentally and physically ready to take on the SAT.

Ready to go beyond just reading about the SAT? Then you'll love the free five-day trial for our SAT Complete Prep program . Designed and written by PrepScholar SAT experts , our SAT program customizes to your skill level in over 40 subskills so that you can focus your studying on what will get you the biggest score gains.

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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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Time pressure can bring out your worst instincts as an SAT test-taker.  After all, how often on a high school English or Math test do you have one minute or less to answer a question?

How long is the SAT?

Learn how to budget your time on each section of the SAT , and get the pacing tips you need for the score of your dreams.

How Long Does the SAT Take?

The SAT clocks in at 3 hours (3 hours and 15 minutes with breaks). And if you choose to sign up for the optional essay , the SAT takes 3 hours and 50 minutes to complete (or 4 hours, 5 minutes with breaks).

SAT Test Length by Section

How are those 3 hours broken up by section? Here’s what your SAT test day schedule looks like:

Tips for SAT Pacing

Are you ready for your SAT date ? The biggest mistake many test-takers make is to spend too little time on the easy and medium questions, and too much time on the hard ones. The problem with this approach is that if you rush through the easy and medium questions, you are almost certain to make a few careless mistakes. Here are the pacing steps that will help you improve your score.

1. Slow Down, Score More

You’re not scored on how many questions you do . You’re scored on how many questions you answer correctly . Doing fewer questions can mean more correct answers overall!

2. Mimic the Real Thing

When you take practice tests, time yourself exactly as you will be timed on the real SAT. Develop a sense of how long 35 minutes is, for example, and how much time you can afford to spend on cracking difficult problems. If you know ahead of time what to expect, you won’t be as nervous.

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3. Don’t Get Bogged Down on the Tough Questions

Don’t let yourself get trapped by hard or time-consuming questions. Stop the part of your brain that says, “But I’ve already spent so much time working on this question . . .  I know I can finish it!” If you’re stumped or running short on time, guess and move on. Learn more SAT tips for completing questions out of order. 

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How Long the SAT Is and How to Manage That Time

The college admissions test is three hours long and divided into three sections.

Writing - Activity

Students have 1 minute and 10 seconds per question, but some problems on the SAT exam are more difficult and may require additional time. (Getty Images)

For some students, the SAT may seem like it lasts forever, but the exam actually lasts three hours.

That time doesn't include one 10-minute break and one five-minute break. Experts say that how time is managed on each section is key to earning a high score.

"Don't think the clock is your enemy; you need to know how to work it," says Jed Applerouth, founder and president of Georgia-based Applerouth Tutoring Services LLC, which offers SAT prep as one of its services.

The test consists of three sections: reading, writing and language, and math. The 65-minute reading section is comprised of 52 multiple-choice questions; the writing and language section that lasts 35 minutes has 44 multiple-choice questions; and the 80-minute math test features 58 questions, 45 of which are multiple-choice and 13 that require a student-produced response.

Until recently, the SAT included an optional essay that added another 50 minutes. The essay, which experts note wasn't widely required by colleges, will no longer be available after June. Optional subject tests that each take an hour to complete have also been cut, though international students will still be able to take them in May and June.

While the majority of colleges were no longer requiring the SAT essay , many students still opted in. According to data from the College Board, which administers the SAT, 57% of nearly 2.2 million test-takers from the class of 2020 completed the essay. That number was higher in the prior year, which unlike 2020 wasn't marked by mass test date cancellations prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. For the class of 2019, 64% of the more than 2.2 million students who took the SAT that year completed the essay.

Dropping the optional essay will likely benefit students, some test prep experts say.

"Eliminating the SAT essay will save students time: preparation time, practice time, and time on official administrations. That will benefit students," Applerouth says. "Students will no longer need to save as much time on a Saturday to give to testing. They'll be getting an hour of their day back each time they have a practice or official test. That is meaningful. And shorter tests require less mental stamina."

Additionally, Applerouth says, "eliminating SAT subject tests will simply save students time and energy they would have invested in preparation and practice. This simplifies preparation and the testing calendar."

Time Management on the SAT

Part of a successful test strategy, experts say, includes knowing how much time should be spent on each question. Students have an average of about 1 minute and 10 seconds per question, but some problems on the SAT exam are more difficult and may take longer.

"You should allocate your time toward answering those easy questions that you can knock out first, and then go back to the hard questions, which you can answer later, which involves more time allocation," says Mai Jumamil, former director of college prep programs at New York-based Kaplan Test Prep. "You have to sort out these types of questions that you're answering, understand the difficulty level and be able to answer accordingly with that time constraint."

Experts caution students against spending too much time at the beginning of each section and not leaving enough for later questions.

"I think they are spending too much time early on second-guessing themselves, going back and forth, and before they know it, they've lost that time," says Joe Korfmacher, director of college counseling at Collegewise, an admissions consulting company headquartered in California.

For time-strapped students, one option is to simply guess in order to answer as many questions as possible. While not an ideal scenario, Korfmacher notes that the SAT no longer has a guessing penalty , which may allow students to raise their scores slightly when they are running out of time.

Applerouth also advises test-takers to learn their natural pacing. With practice, he says, students can learn how long it takes them to answer questions and be able to gauge when a minute or so has passed.

"Your watch is definitely one of your key tools to help with time management," Applerouth says.

Keep in mind, however, test-day restrictions such as a ban on devices that can be used to record, transmit, receive or play back content. The College Board lists restrictions on smartwatches and other prohibited materials on its Test Day Checklist webpage .

Other advice offered by the College Board includes what to bring, what to expect and when to arrive. According to the College Board website, test center doors open at 7:45 a.m. and testing begins between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Dismissal is typically around noon.

How to Get Ready for Test Day

Outside of test-taking and time-management strategies, experts say other factors can influence a student's SAT score.

A common performance handicap for busy high school students? Lack of sleep, test-prep pros say.

"It's essential that students get enough sleep because that is going to affect their ability to sustain that focus for that period of time," Applerouth says.

He adds that high school students aren't typically asked to lock into one task for three hours. Success, he says, often requires several rounds of practice tests to develop the endurance to focus for that long.

"A lot of the practice is building that cognitive muscle to stay focused," Applerouth says.

Another overlooked factor that can lower an SAT score ? Hunger. Applerouth encourages students to bring a snack to enjoy during each break to keep their energy and glucose levels up, which will help them power through the long exam.

Keeping stress levels down is also important, says Korfmacher, who has heard of students using meditation and other calming techniques. Students should remain relaxed and confident, he says, knowing that they have prepared well for the exam.

"I tell my kids that half the battle is to just believe in yourself," Korfmacher says.

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  1. How Long Does the SAT Take?

    The total time for the SAT is 180 minutes, not including breaks, while the SAT Essay is 50 minutes. The SAT is broken up into three sections of and an optional fourth section, the SAT Essay. How Long Does the SAT Take?

  2. Expert Guide: How Long Is the SAT?

    Detailed Guide: SAT Test Length. The SAT is three hours (180 minutes) long in total, excluding ...

  3. How Long is the SAT?

    The SAT clocks in at 3 hours (3 hours and 15 minutes with breaks). And if you choose to sign up ...

  4. How Long the SAT Is and How to Manage That Time

    Until recently, the SAT included an optional essay that added another 50 minutes. The essay, which experts note wasn't widely required by colleges, will no longer be available after June.