How Long Is the SAT | How to Manage Your Test Time Effectively
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Every year, millions of high school seniors flock to testing centers across the country to sit for one of the most notorious standardized tests in history: the SAT exam.
While the importance of the SAT exam in college admissions processes has begun to wane in recent years, the infamous exam will likely still be a significant—if not the deciding—factor in determining whether or not you get into that top-tier school you’ve been dreaming about.
But in all the excitement and dread that surrounds the exam, it’s important to take a step back and answer some more practical questions.
Since you have obviously already looked through our best SAT prep book reviews (you have, right?), the next step is to get answers to your questions about how the test actually works come test day.
For starters: how long is the SAT, anyway?
How Long Is the SAT?
Before we dig into all the minutia of test formats and sections and pacing and all the rest, let’s just get right down to it and answer the question you’re here for in the first place. That is, how long is the SAT?
The short (and not-so-sweet) answer: three hours
Now, I know what you’re thinking: I can barely sit through three hours of Game of Thrones episodes without getting antsy! How in the heck am I going to sit for a three-hour exam that could determine my whole future!
First of all, calm down—there’s no need to get crazy. It goes by fast when you're kicking some SAT butt.
Why am I so sure? Because in this article, I’m going to give you all the information and tips you need to ensure that you’ll fare very well in this exam. Stick with us, and you’ll be feeling much more optimistic about your SAT prospects in no time.
SAT Test Length by Section
Since the SAT exam is comprised of several sections and subsections, it’s a good idea to start our discussion of test length with the different time limits for each SAT section.
We’ll cover each section in the order that they will appear on the actual exam, so take note of this arrangement.It can help you later when it comes to pacing yourself to ensure you have enough time to complete the different sections.
1. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing This language arts-related section of the test is actually further broken down into two subsections: first is reading, next is writing and language. This is "important" so that you can articulate your thoughts and answer in free form. It's antiquated, but being prepared to read and do essays on the SAT will only help.
- Reading The reading section of the exam is the longest of all four (or five, if you take the option essay exam) sections, as the total time allotted for it is 65 minutes. In that 65-minute stretch, you’ll have a total of 52 multiple-choice questions to answer based on selected reading passages of various lengths. BREAK TIME! After you’ve completed the 65-minute reading portion of the SAT, you’ll probably already be feeling a little fatigued. Luckily, the test administrators are aware of this, so they include a nice 10-minute break immediately following the reading portion.
- Writing and Language Once your ten-minute breather is over, you’ll head back in to start the writing and language portion of the exam, which is considerably shorter than the reading portion. The writing and language section only takes 35 minutes, but you’ll still have 44 multiple-choice questions to answer, so time management and effective pacing will be key.
2. Mathematics Now that you’ve made it through the English portion of the exam, it’s time to switch gears entirely and take on the math sections. Unfortunately, you don’t get a break, so you won’t have any time to really get your mind switched over to the very different subject matter. Math has proven to have real value in the world - unlike mastering history or all of the rules of grammar. You can use it in engineering, stock markets, or even lear about real estate, which you can with Real Estate Exam Ninja.
So, do your best to prepare for this by taking plenty of practice exams to learn how to brace yourself for this quick adjustment.Like the first section, the math section is also broken down into two separate sections: one section in which you can use a calculator and one in which you cannot.
- Math – No Calculator In this first mathematics section, you’ll have 25 minutes to answer 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions, for a total of 20 questions, all of which you must answer without the use of a calculator.BREAK TIME!Now that you’ve just gotten yourself into the headspace for math, it’s time for another break. This one will only be 5 minutes long, so make it count!
- Math – With Calculator At this point, you’re heading for the home stretch. With the option to use a calculator, this section will require you to complete 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-in questions in 55 minutes.Once you complete this section, you either move on to the optional essay portion or you’re simply done with your exam!
3. Essay (Optional) If you choose to take the optional essay portion of the exam, you’ll be tasked with composing an essay according to a single prompt. You will have 50 minutes to complete it.
How Long Does the SAT Take? – SAT Pacing Tips
Now that we’ve answered the question how long does the SAT take to complete?, section by section, it’s time to move on to some general advice and tips on how to pace yourself throughout the exam to ensure you have enough time to address each question completely for each section.
Don’t Get Bogged Down on the Tough Questions
What does this mean for pacing? Basically, it means you’re probably better off moving through each section once fairly quickly, answering all the questions you know right away or are sure you can complete in relatively little time, temporarily skipping the harder, more involved questions.
Once you’ve gone through a section this way, you can then go back and begin answering the harder or more time-consuming questions. This will maximize the number of questions you are more likely to get right and minimize the amount of time wasted struggling with difficult questions or problems. Additionally, there is no penalty if you don't answer a question, but if you get one wrong this can hurt your SAT score.
Slow Down, Score More
It’s important to note something about the SAT format and scoring method when it comes to developing the pacing skills necessary to succeed on the exam. Remember, your score is not determined by the number of questions you complete; rather, your SAT score is based on the number of correct answers you provide.
That is, even though it might seem counterintuitive, once you’ve completed a first pass over the section answering the easy and/or short ones, you should then go back and take your time answering the harder or more time-consuming questions and problems.
Since you won’t be penalized for questions you don’t answer, it’s really in your best interest to spend the time you need to answer these more challenging and involved problems.
That said, don’t spend too much time with them, as you still want to get to all the questions you can that you might be able to get right. We’ll discuss time management in more detail at the end of this article.
Mimic the Real Thing
If there’s one piece of advice you hear over and over about how to succeed on the SAT, it’s that you have to practice.
Indeed, taking lots of practice SAT exams will do wonders for your real SAT performance. However, to get the most out of these practice tests with regard to pacing and time management, it’s crucial that you take these practice exams under conditions that are as close to the real test as possible.That is, get out a timer and actually set it for the amount of time you will have to complete each section on the day of the real exam as a mock SAT test/exam.
This will be hugely beneficial when it comes to learning how to pace yourself for the real thing.
Time Management on the SAT
So, how long is the SAT test? Well, at over 3 hours it might seem quite long indeed.
But if you’ve ever taken a practice SAT under real test day conditions, like with timed sections as we mentioned above, you know that 3 hours isn’t much time at all when you consider just how much you have to accomplish on the exam in that amount of time.
The key to time management on the SAT involves three things:
- Get sufficient experience. Take plenty of real-time practice SAT exams to instill in your mind a sense of how long each section is and how much time it takes you to answer different kinds of questions.
- Watch the clock. Keep an occasional eye on the time throughout the test—but don’t become obsessive about clock watching, as this can have the negative side-effect of psyching you out and adding unnecessary panic.
- Stay Calm. The single most important thing you can do to manage your time is to keep a level head. Remember, you’ve prepared for this. You know what to expect. You’ve got this!
Finally, we encourage you to read about how many times you can take the SAT to adjust your testing strategies and time invested accordingly!