How Long is SAT and How to Manage That Time

Victor O.

How long is SAT and how to manage that time: When going for an SAT, one important factor to consider is your time management.


The SAT is broken up into three sections consisting of four tests and an optional fourth section, the SAT Essay.

The total time for the SAT is 180 minutes, not including breaks, and the SAT Essay is 50 minutes.

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How Many Breaks Are There During the SAT?

There are several breaks built into the SAT schedule. The first is a 10-minute break between the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.

Later, there’s a 5-minute break between the two Math Tests.


Finally, if you’re taking the SAT Essay or if your test has an additional 20-minute section, you’ll get a 2-minute break after the Math Test with Calculator.

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When Does the SAT Start?

Test center doors open at 7:45 a.m. on test day and close at 8 a.m. Once students are in their testing room, the proctor will collect all electronic devices and backpacks and check to make sure all calculators are approved for the SAT.

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Some extra time may be needed so students can add the SAT Essay on-site.


After all the students are seated, checked in, and ready to begin the test, the proctor distributes the test materials and reads the preliminary instructions.

The test begins between 8:30 and 9 a.m., based on how long these steps take.

How Do I Know How Much Time I Have Left?

The proctor will announce during different sections how much time remains. The timing of the first announcement depends on the length of that section but comes at roughly the halfway point.

A second warning is given with 5 minutes remaining. Once time is up, you’ll hear that classic line: “Please stop work and put your pencil down.”

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The proctor will also post the exact time each test section started and ended, and exactly when the test will resume after any breaks.


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Why Was There a 5th Section On the SAT?

Your SAT may contain an additional 20-minute section. We occasionally pre-test new test items to determine if they should be used on future SAT forms.

Pre-test items can appear in any section and are not included in computing students’ scores.

This means that test time is extended by 20 minutes for students taking both the SAT and the SAT with Essay.

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If there will be the fifth section, the test center supervisor will share instructions before the test begins.


When Is the SAT Over?

The release time for students taking the SAT will vary slightly by test center or even by room in a test center.

The main sections take 3 hours and students are given 15 minutes for breaks, and there’s setup time before the test can begin and time to explain the instructions before each section.

Some students will take the SAT Essay, which lasts an additional 50 minutes.  Your test may also include a 20-minute extra section to test questions for future SATs. 

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Students taking the SAT with no Essay should finish between 12:15 and 12:45 p.m. and students taking the SAT with Essay should finish between 1 and 1:30 p.m.

Once the test is complete and all test booklets are turned in, the proctor will return all electronic devices and backpacks.


Time Management Tips

Bring a Watch

Yes, your test site should have a clock, and your proctor should write the remaining time on a whiteboard if possible, but it’s Murphy’s Law that things will go wrong if they can.

Bring a non-beeping watch along to protect against that possibility.

Be familiar with the instructions ahead of time

This one’s relatively easy. Take enough practice tests/do enough practice problems to know the instructions for each section ahead of time. It’ll save you precious minutes come test day.

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Know how many questions are in each section

It’s hard to manage your time if you don’t have at least a sense of how many questions you’ll have to complete in each section.

You don’t have to memorize these stats, but try to be generally familiar with the composition of each section (this will come naturally if you do practice tests). 


Don’t be afraid to skip and return to questions later

No law says you have to do questions in order. If you think you might be able to answer a question, but know it might take you a little while, skip it for now and return if you have time.

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Take notes on reading passages

Underline key sentences and jot down the main idea of each paragraph. It may seem like a waste of time, but in the end, it’ll save you time.

Don’t spend the same amount of time on each question

Allocating your time equally to spend x minutes on each question might seem like a great strategy. However, it’s important to remember that (except in the critical reading section) questions go in order from easiest to hardest on the SAT.

Answer the earlier questions more quickly, saving time for the trickier questions towards the end.

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Use all the time you are given

If you’re lucky enough to finish all the questions in a section, don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs!. Go back and check your answers.

Look especially closely at any questions where you had to make an educated guess. You might just be able to eliminate another answer or two, further increasing your chances of success.

Plan your Essay-writing very well

Yes, you only have 25 minutes to complete what will be considered a “final first draft” by SAT essay graders. Still, this does not mean that you should go straight to writing.

Take a minute or two to brainstorm and another few minutes to write a rough outline, with your thesis and supporting examples.

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You’ll get a better score on the essay if your essay is structured logically



 Unless you’re aiming for a perfect 800 on each section of the SAT, you don’t have to answer all the questions on the test. Just manage time and do your best.



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