SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

SAT Exact Start Time and End Time


Timing is everything, especially when it comes to the SAT. Besides managing your time on each section of the test, you also have to plan your day around this long exam.

Since latecomers won't be admitted to the testing room, when should you plan to arrive on test day? For that matter, what time can you breathe a sigh of relief and, all finished with the exam, head back home? This guide will go over the exact start and end times of the SAT so you can plan your schedule for that special SAT-urday.


What Time Do You Need to Arrive for the SAT?

The SAT is given on Saturday mornings (unless you request and are approved for an alternative testing date due to religious reasons). Doors close at 8:00AM, unless otherwise specified, so students should aim to be at the test center by 7:45AM at the latest.

Some test locations, including your high school, will be holding multiple exams, like the GRE for graduate school. There might be a line of people waiting, and it could take some time to find your name on a list and locate your room. To be especially safe and get ahead of any lines, you sould aim to be there even earlier, like by 7:30AM.

Apart from finding your assigned room and seat, you also may have to hang up your bag and/or coat somewhere outside of the testing room. What also takes time that morning is getting checked in with your admission ticket and ID.

[Side note: make sure to hold onto your admission ticket, as you'll need it to fill out some personal information on your test!]

Once you find your room and assigned seat, your proctor will give instructions and pass out the tests. You'll spend some time filling out your personal details on the test. All of this settling in takes about 30 minutes to an hour, so you'll start taking the SAT between 8:30AM and 9:00AM.

Again, arrive by 7:45AM at the latest. No one will be admitted once testing has started. You'll be at your testing center for 45 minutes to an hour before you start in on your first section, which will be Reading on the redesigned test.

After you begin between 8:30AM and 9:00AM, what time will you be all finished with the SAT?



Will you look something like this?


When Will You Be Finished With the SAT?

The new SAT is 3 hours long, or 3 hours and 50 minutes with the optional essay.

Since you can decide whether or not to take the essay section on the redesigned SAT, your choice will determine your exact end time. Given this variation, let’s consider your end time on the SAT in two scenarios: first, without the essay, and second, with the essay.


SAT End Time Without the Essay

If you choose not to take the essay, then you’ll be finished about an hour earlier than students who elect to include this section. The SAT has a 65-minute Reading section, a 35-minute Writing and Language section, and two Math sections: 25 minutes (without calculator) and 55 minutes (with calculator).

The sections on the SAT will be given in this same order - Reading, Writing, Math (no calculator), and Math (with calculator). You should get two short breaks of about five minutes each, one after the Reading section and the other between the two Math sections.

While your total testing time will be 3 hours, your entire test-taking experience will look more like 3 hours and 10 minutes with the breaks. If you began your test between 8:30 and 9:00, then you'd be finished between 11:40AM and 12:10PM.

At this point, you’re all done with your SAT. Other students, though, may stay longer and move onto a fourth hour of testing if they're taking the essay.


SAT End Time With the Essay

Students who choose to take the SAT essay will get this section last, after Reading, Writing and Language, and both Math sections. The essay is 50 minutes long, and you’ll get a short break of five to ten minutes before you start writing. That means you can add 55 minutes to an hour to your end time.

If you start taking the SAT (with the essay) between 8:30AM and 9:00AM, then you can expect to be finished sometime between 12:35PM and 1:10PM. A good estimate for your end time is around 1:00PM

Apart from the amount of time it takes to get everyone checked in and ready to test, are there any variations in how long the SAT takes?



Does the SAT Always Take the Same Amount of Time?

Except for students with accommodations for extended time, the SAT should take the same amount of time in any testing center in the U.S. or internationally. The reality is that there can be some variation in terms of break time, with some proctors being more flexible and allowing between five and ten minutes. If there were any problems, such as distracting noise or a student being dismissed for cell phone use, this could also potentially cause a delay.

Some students have reported that proctors skipped their breaks entirely, which isn't helpful for your pacing or for fairness across the board. You have the right to two 5-minute breaks (and a third before the essay), so you should speak up if you don't get your entitled break time.

One recent incident involving an issue with timing was on the June 6th 2015 administration of the current version of the SAT. There was a misprint in the test booklet, resulting in some students receiving an extra five minutes on what should have been a 20 minute section. This was a huge problem that caused a lot of controversy and complaints, as an extra five minutes is a full 25% increase in time for some students and not others. Ultimately, the College Board still provided scores for students, but omitted that particular section, claiming that it could still provide accurate scores without it.

Apart from this June 6th situation, which hopefully won’t repeat itself with the simplified format of the redesigned SAT, the SAT start and end time generally remain standard at around 3 (or 4) hours in all test centers. For the most part, you can be pretty confident about what your schedule will look like on test day. You can further take control of your morning by preparing everything you’ll need the day before. 



Armed and ready with No. 2 pencils.

Planning for SAT Test Day

Pack your bag with Number 2 pencils, a calculator, snacks, and a drink, and plan to arrive at your testing center between 7:30AM and 7:45 AM. You'll spend about an hour checking in, finding your room and assigned seat, and filling out personal details on the test before you actually begin taking it between 8:30AM and 9:00AM.

To sustain your focus and energy over this four-hour period of test-taking, make sure to take advantage of breaks to move around, drink water, and have a snack. Look around the room or out the window, as staring up close at a test for so long can strain your eyes. Just moving and doing something else, even if it's just for a few minutes, will help re-energize you, clear your mind, and collect yourself before the next section.

You'll be all finished with the SAT between 12:30PM and 1:00PM. Congratulate yourself for preparing for and taking this intense test, and enjoy the rest of your Saturday!


What's Next? 

What SAT score should you be aiming for? What's a good SAT score? Find out more in our detailed guide.

Feeling stressed about finishing all the questions in time? Learn and try out these best strategies to stop running out of time on Critical Reading and Math.

Have you registered for the SAT yet? If not, check out our step-by-step guide to SAT registration for everything you need to know.


Disappointed with your scores? 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:

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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