How Long Is The SAT? Tips For Managing Time on Test Day

The paper SAT test is three hours long, not counting breaks and the test consists of 154 questions. Knowing how long the SAT takes and understanding how the test is structured will give you a better idea of how much time you can spend on each section. And, we’ve got some time management tips for you below. Let’s get started!

Students are writing on their desks.

Flickr user Penn State

How The SAT Test Is Structured

The SAT test consists of 4 distinct sections – the Reading Section, the Writing and Language Section, the Math Section With Calculator, and the Math Section Without Calculator. 

Reading Section – You have 65 minutes to answer 52 questions in the reading section. This equals out to about 75 seconds to answer each of these questions. 

Writing and Language Section – This section is 35 minutes and consists of 44 questions, which works out to about 48 seconds for each answer. 

Math Section Without Calculator – In the math no-calculator section, you get 25 minutes to answer 20 questions, which is about 75 seconds for each question. 

Math Section With Calculator – The math calculator section gives you 55 minutes to answer 38 questions, which is about 87 seconds per question. 

Most of the questions are in the multiple-choice format so you should be able to go through them pretty quickly. The only exception is in the math section, where you have to write in some of the answers, instead of selecting them. 

How The Breaks Are Structured 

There are two breaks built into the 3-hour duration of the paper SAT test. 

The first is a 10-minute break. This is scheduled between the Reading Section and the Writing and Language Section. 

The second is a 5-minute break, which is scheduled between the two Math Sections. 

You can eat and drink only during these two breaks, but you won’t be allowed to eat or drink while testing is in session. 

How To Determine How Much Time You Have Left

A common problem most test-takers run into is running out of time. This is because they spent too much time on one question, under the impression that they had plenty of time. Carrying a watch can help. But don’t waste precious minutes checking the time too frequently. Trust your practice and preparation! 

Generally, the proctor at your test center will announce how much time you have remaining for each section. The first time announcement is made at about the halfway point for that section. The second announcement notifies test-takers that there are only 5 minutes remaining. 

When you hear the 5-minute warning you know it’s time to get through the unanswered questions or to glance through your answered questions quickly. Within 5 minutes of the second announcement, the proctor will ask all students to put their pencils down and stop working. 

The proctor will also post the exact time each test section began and ended so students can keep track of the time. To avoid any confusion regarding the time, they will post exactly what time the test will resume after any breaks. 

What You Should Know About A Possible 5th SAT Section

Some SAT tests may include an additional 20-minute extra section. This is added on to pre-test new test questions to determine whether or not they should be used on future SAT test forms. 

If your SAT tests include any additional questions, 20 minutes will be added to the total test time. Your answers will NOT be used to compute your score. The only difference it makes to you is that it extends your test time by 20 minutes. 

How To Request Extended Testing Time If You’re Eligible

Students who need extra testing time, more frequent breaks, or any other assistance due to medical conditions or other circumstances can apply for special accommodations. If you qualify and have the documentation to support your request, you can submit an accommodations request. 

College Board offers all the information you need on how to request accommodations, how to fill out the student eligibility form, and what documentation to provide. 

What To Expect On The SAT Test Day 

On the test day, it’s most important that you show up at the testing center early. If you live a distance away from the test center, take traffic into account and leave home early. Doors will close and testing will start at 8:30 am whether you’ve reached the test center or not. 

Don’t forget to carry along a valid ID, a printout of your admission ticket, No. 2 pencils, and an approved calculator. 

When you get to the test center, wait to be seated. Your seat is pre-assigned. You cannot sit anywhere you want to. 

4 Tips For Managing Your Time During The Test

Time can be your biggest enemy or it can be your biggest friend on the test day. Don’t worry, these few tips for managing your time will help you make the most of the three hours that you have. 

1. Familiarize yourself with the format and instructions in advance

The SAT is pretty different from your highest school tests. The format is different and so is the way the test is carried out. If you’re unprepared, you’ll spend valuable time just trying to figure things out. Knowing what to expect will help you move through the questions faster, saving you precious minutes come test day. 

The best way to familiarize yourself with the format and the instructions for each section is by taking enough timed practice tests ahead of time. 

Pay special attention to the number of questions, the way the questions are laid out, and the time allocated for each section. With each practice test your goal should be to complete each section in less time than before. 

2. Don’t be afraid to skip questions and get back to them later

You have a limited time to answer each question. Spending too much time on one question will almost certainly result in time running out. 

A better way to proceed is to answer all the questions that you know the answers to and skip those that you’re not sure of. Once you’ve answered all the ‘sure’ questions, go back and answer those that you skipped earlier.   

3. Don’t be afraid to guess if you’re not sure of the answer

There are no penalties for guessing or for entering the wrong answers. Under these circumstances, it’s better to guess the answer rather than leave the question unanswered. You won’t lose anything, and well, you may just guess the right answer, which will bump up your score. 

4. Have extra time? Use it to re-check your answers

Use every available minute that you have. Don’t turn in your paper early even if you manage to answer all the questions with time to spare. Instead, use those extra minutes to go back and check all the questions and answers. Did you answer all the questions? More importantly, did you answer all questions correctly? Look especially closely at the answers you guessed and double-check that you think you guessed as best you could. 

Now that you know how long the SAT test is and what to expect along with some time management tips, we wish you the best of luck on your upcoming tests. And don’t hesitate to check out more ACT/SAT test resources here.

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