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How Long Does the SAT Take?

The SAT is all about time. From waking up early to getting your test materials ready, to arriving at the test center on time, to pacing yourself so you can answer each question, you need to be aware of the time. With that said, it’ll be a massive help to know when your test starts, and approximately how long it should take.

So, to find out how long the SAT is, how early you should arrive, and how to budget your time when taking the test, keep on reading!

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How long is the SAT? 

Great question! In total, the SAT takes 3 hours (or 3 hours and 15 minutes, if you include breaks). So, altogether (including breaks), the format/schedule of the SAT should look like this:

Section Time Number of Questions
Reading 65 minutes 52
Break 10 minutes n/a
Writing and Language 35 minutes 44
Math, No Calculator 25 minutes 20
Break 5 minutes n/a
Math, With Calculator 55 minutes 38

Not too bad, right? Just don’t plan on finishing (or leaving) earlier than the 3 hours and 15 minutes allotted. You’re not allowed to move onto the next section until the time is up. Your test will likely be disqualified, and you will be immediately dismissed from the testing room if you do so. Thus, if you finish a section early, we highly recommend using that extra time to go back and double- (or triple-) check your answers.

And, if you’re wondering where the optional essay went, that is no longer being offered (as of June 2021). That means you have one less thing to worry about. You’ll now have more time to prepare for the other test sections.

See also: Is the SAT hard?

How early should I arrive for the SAT?

Unlike the case with the tests you typically take at school, you will not be allowed to take the SAT if you arrive late. So, it is incredibly important that you arrive at the testing site on time. As the doors open at 7:45 A.M., this would ideally mean arriving by around 7:30 AM so you can avoid any last-minute rushes and unnecessary stress (or 7:45 at the latest!). 

How will you get to the test site?

Make sure you have a transportation plan confirmed ahead of time. Will you drive yourself or will a family member drive you? Is your testing site within walking distance, and do you know how to get there? Will you take public transportation that will arrive at a reliable time or do you need a back-up plan? You may also want to check the weather and plan extra travel time for any severe weather. 

Set your alarm(s!)

In addition to a transportation plan, it’s a good idea to set multiple alarms in the morning. Even if you’re a morning person, consider setting another alarm or asking a family member to wake you up. You want to avoid being in a rush as much as possible so that you’re in peak test-taking mode. 

Time zones? No worries!

And, if you’re wondering about time zones – no need to worry! The SAT is administered at the same local time. So, no matter where you are, just try to make it to your testing site by 7:45 AM at the latest (but earlier is better!). However, the doors to the testing rooms typically won’t actually close until 8 AM. So, keep in mind that if you’re not there by 8:00, you may not be allowed into the room.

With that said, when does the exam actually start? 

Also see: SAT test date calendar

When does the SAT start?

Although the doors close at 8:00, the SAT generally starts between 8:30 and 9 A.M.  This allows time for registration, to get students situated in their testing rooms, and to distribute the necessary testing materials (and make sure that students don’t have electronic watches). Thus, the exact starting time will likely differ for every location (and date), as it depends on how long it takes one’s testing site to get everything prepared for the exam. 

No matter where and when you sign up for the exam, no more students will be allowed into the testing site once testing has begun.

Related: SAT Subject Tests are no more

Is there a fifth section on the SAT?

Good question! While there is sometimes a “fifth” section of the SAT, it’s never scored and does not count towards someone’s final score. Rather, it is an “experimental” section, used by the College Board to determine whether new test items should be used on future SAT exams. Thus, this section of the test is essentially a “pre-test” of new test items, and only takes 20 minutes to complete. If a particular exam does include a fifth section, then test proctors or supervisors will let students know before the test begins.

Related: How to improve your SAT score

When does the SAT end?

Students should expect to finish the exam between 12:15 and 12:45 P.M. The exact end varies slightly due to the time it takes to do set up and instructions in each room and whether the site is taking an exam with a fifth section. Once the exam is over and all test booklets have been collected, students’ electronic devices and backpacks will be returned and students will be allowed to leave. 

Also see: ACT vs SAT: How to decide which test to take

Time management strategies for the SAT

You now know when each section of the SAT begins and ends, and approximately how long you get to complete each section. But how can you make sure that you finish each question within the allotted time? Well, luckily for you, we have a few great time management (and general test-taking) strategies to prepare yourself for the exam! Keep these in mind when preparing or (and taking) the SAT: 

  • Be familiar with each section’s instructions before taking the exam
    • You don’t want to have to waste time reading directions when you could be answering questions!
  • Answer the questions you know first. Then, go back to the harder ones later
  • Use the process of elimination (strike out answers you’re sure are incorrect)
  • Use your test booklet (NOT the answer grid) as scratch paper
  • Answer every question – there is no penalty for guessing wrong
  • Make sure you’re marking your answers in the grid correctly (e.g. if the answer to question #37 is A, make sure you’re marking #37, and not #38, with an A)
  • Budget your time! 
    • Bring a watch or timer if you need to (but not an Apple watch – those aren’t allowed)
  • Fully understand each question before answering it
  • Fill in your answer grid neatly so your test is processed correctly

Related: Tips to reduce test anxiety

What if I run out of time?

So, let’s say you’re taking the exam and notice yourself running out of time. What should you do? First, try to answer all of those questions that you can figure out without much difficulty. As for those you’re completely clueless about – take your best guess! Wrong answers on the SAT do not count against your score. In other words, you don’t lose points for answering questions incorrectly. Rather, you can only gain points for guessing questions correctly. So, remember to leave no answer blank – even if you have no clue.

First try to knock out an answer or two that you’re sure are wrong. Using the process of elimination will improve your chances of guessing correctly. 

And, most of all, remember to make sure you’re marking each question in the correct order and space on your answer grid. If you skip a question, make sure to skip it on the grid as well. This will help you avoid the later realization that your answer sheet is messed up and that you need to go back and fix many, many answers.

And that’s it! We hope that you’re now feeling reassured about the SAT and feel confident that you can finish (and begin) on time. Good luck, and we wish you the best!

Additional resources

Before you go, here are a few more SAT resources to answer any questions you may have about the exam: 

Frequently asked questions about how long the SAT takes

Are there accommodations for extra time for students with disabilities?

Yes, students with documented disabilities may be eligible for extended time accommodations which can vary in length based on individual needs.

How should I manage my time during the SAT to ensure I finish every section?

It’s important to pace yourself during the SAT. You can use a watch or a timer to keep track of time. Try to allocate equal time to each question but do not spend too much time on any single question. If you get stuck, move on and come back to it later! 

Is there a penalty for guessing on the SAT?

No, there is no penalty for guessing on the SAT. You earn points for correct answers, but do not lose points for incorrect or unanswered answers, so it’s generally a good strategy to make educated guesses if you’re unsure.

What happens if I run out of time on a section?

If you run out of time on a section, it’s best to make educated guesses on any remaining questions, as there is no penalty for guessing. Leaving questions unanswered will not earn you any points.

Is there a recommended time to arrive at the test center before the SAT begins?

It is recommended that you arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start time to allow for check-in procedures.