SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Expert Guide: How Long Is the SAT?

Posted by Halle Edwards | Feb 5, 2015 11:00:00 AM

SAT General Info



Studying for the SAT exam isn’t just about practicing math problems and passage reading – it is 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 test.

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


Detailed Guide: SAT Test Length

The SAT is 3 hours (180 minutes) long in total, not including the optional essay or breaks. With the optional essay, the total test time is 3 hours and 50 minutes.

Section   Total Questions   Total Time (minutes)
Reading 52 65
Writing 44 35
Math 58 80
Essay (Optional) 1 50


Unlike the old SAT, which was broken up into ten mini-sections, you are tackling each subject in a single chunk. However, note that the Math section will be broken up into two pieces: the no-calculator section and the calculator section. The no-calculator section comes first, and asks 20 questions in 25 minutes. Next you'll tackle the calculator section, which asks 38 questions in 55 minutes.

The sections go in the following order: Reading, Writing, Math (No Calculator), Math (Calculator) and finally the essay (if you are taking the SAT with the optional writing section). You will be given a 10-minute break after the Reading section, a five-miunte break after the Math (No Calculator) section, and then a very short two-minute break after the Math (Calculator) section if you're staying for the Essay.


Not Just Long - Also Intense

The SAT is a long test – more than four hours from check-in to the end if you take it with the essay! However, it moves very quickly because of the amount of questions you have to answer on each section of the test.

  Section   Total Questions   Total Time   Approximate Time per Question  
Reading 52 65 1 minute 15 seconds
Writing 44 35 47 seconds
Math 58 80 1 minute 15 seconds (No Calculator), 1 minute 26 seconds (Calculator)


Even though your approximate time for question is often more than a minute, on the actual test, things will be more complicated. First of all, you will likely move through easier questions much more quickly, while needing more time for harder questions. Secondly, if you want to leave time at the end of a section to check your answers, you will 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.

Also, note that stamina will be incredibly important on the redesigned SAT. While the old SAT broke up the test into 10 small sections,  the new SAT has you 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, 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

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



You need to build up endurance and practice your pacing for the SAT – just like training for a race.


The best time to take these practice tests is on a Saturday or Sunday morning, so you can get a good idea of what your energy level will be like. Sure, it may be easier to fit in a practice test late on a Sunday night, but you 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. True, 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 will preserve your Saturday afternoon and evening for more fun activities!

Also, as you study for the different sections individually, 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 just on SAT Reading, take one or two Reading practice sections and give yourself just 65 minutes, the time you'll have on the actual exam. This will allow you to get used to the timing on the SAT and build up your test-taking stamina.


What’s Next?

Now that you know how long the test is going to take, read up about the best places to take the SAT

Read more tips on how to work quickly and save time during the SAT

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


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points


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Halle Edwards
About the Author

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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