Taking standardized tests – like the SAT and ACT — is a key component of the college admissions process. These tests don’t only test your knowledge of math and language skills, they also assess your ability to manage time and work through problems efficiently.
With so much riding on these exams, it’s no surprise that high school students find the days leading up to the test date daunting. While the exam subjects can be intimidating, many students are most concerned about the time constraints.
So how long is the SAT test? The new SAT test is 180 minutes long, not including the 50-minute optional SAT essay section or any breaks. Here we’ll go over the basic structure of the SAT test, including how much time you’ll get for each section. Plus, we’ll offer some helpful hints on how to manage your time so you get the best SAT test score you possibly can.
Breaking Down the SAT Test
The SAT test is given by the College Board, a not-for-profit that works with the Educational Testing Service to administer the test. The exam assesses students’ skills in three main subject areas: math, reading, and writing. Students typically take the test during their junior or senior year. ACT scores and SAT scores are submitted to colleges and universities as part of the admissions process.
The SAT test is divided into three different subject areas. Each of the subject areas is further divided into sections where students are timed. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different SAT test sections.
SAT Math Section
There are 58 questions in the math test section, which consist of multiple-choice or grid-in answer formats. The grid-in answers require you to solve for an answer and then write that answer into a grid and fill out the corresponding answer bubbles.
The math section is divided into two parts: a no-calculator section and a section where you can use a calculator. The no-calculator portion consists of 15 multiple choice and five grid-in questions. The calculator section has 30 multiple choice questions and eight grid-in questions.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the math section:
- Heart of Algebra: 19 questions on the key components of algebra, including inequalities, equations, and formulas.
- Passport to Advanced Math: 16 questions on advanced topics, including solving quadratic equations and using polynomials.
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis: 17 questions on problem-solving and data analysis, including ratios, percentages, and graphing relationships.
- Additional Topics in Math: 6 questions involving trigonometry and geometry skills, including volume, area, and theorems.
SAT Reading Section
The reading test features five passages that students must read in order to answer questions. The passages are typically between 500 and 750 words long, and questions focus on a student’s ability to read and process information. The passages contain text as well as graphs, charts, and tables that add context. These passages typically include information on United States and world literature, history, and science.
There are a total of 52 questions in this section, and all of them feature multiple choice answers.
Here are the different question types on the SAT Reading exam:
- Command of Evidence: 10 questions asking students to identify the ways in which the passage uses or doesn't use evidence to back up claims.
- Words in Context: 10 questions focusing on the proper or improper use of vocabulary throughout the passages.
- Analysis: 32 questions that examine a student’s ability to draw conclusions and identify the purpose of the passage or elements throughout.
SAT Writing Section
The SAT Writing test requires students to answer 44 multiple-choice questions. This section has four passages between 400 to 500 words, each covering social studies, humanities, and science topics. For each passage, students must answer 11 questions that test knowledge of writing conventions and standards.
Here’s how the writing questions are broken down:
- Expression of Ideas: 24 questions focusing on proper word choice, as well as the development and organization of arguments.
- Standard English Conventions: 20 questions examining proper sentence structure and grammar usage.
How Long Is the SAT Test?
Wondering how long the SAT takes? The entire SAT test has a total time of 180 minutes or 3 hours. You’ll get a 10-minute break between the reading and writing portions of the exam. You’ll also have a 5-minute break between the two math sections.
How long is the SAT test time for each section? Here’s a quick guide to how much time you get for the different sections of the SAT.
- SAT Math: 80 minutes total with 25 minutes for the no calculator section (75 seconds per question) and 55 minutes for the calculator portion (87 seconds per question).
- SAT Reading: 65 minutes (75 seconds per question).
- SAT Writing: 35 minutes (48 seconds per question).
- Optional Essay: 50 minutes for one essay topic.
On test day, you’ll spend more than 3 hours at the testing center in order to allow time to check-in and account for short breaks between test sections. The testing center opens at 7:45 a.m. and doors close promptly at 8:00 a.m. When you enter the testing site, you’ll give the proctor all of your electronic devices and bags. The proctor will also take a look at your calculator to make sure it’s an approved model.
After check-in procedures, you’ll head to a seat. Once everyone is checked-in, the proctor will hand out testing materials. The proctor will go over the basic instructions, and the test will begin between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. If you're taking the optional SAT essay, you can expect to finish by 1:30 p.m., and if you’re not doing the optional essay section, you can expect to finish the exam around 12:45 p.m. During the test, the proctor will tell you when half the allotted time has elapsed. He or she will also give a five-minute warning before time runs out. The proctor will write down the start time of the test and each section so you can monitor your progress as you go.
Tips To Manage Time During the SAT
For test-takers, time management can be an incredibly intimidating part of taking standardized tests. But, there are many techniques and tips you can use to manage your time so you can get a great score. Here are some tips to help you manage time during the SAT test.
Take Practice Tests
One of the best ways to prepare for test day is to take timed SAT practice tests at home. This will help you practice the subject matter and learn to manage how much time you spend on each question. The College Board offers several free SAT prep tests. You can take them online or print them out and practice just like you're at the testing center.
With practice tests, you’ll also see which subjects you have a hard time with. Once you identify where you can improve, you can work with your teacher or an SAT test prep tutor to master the topics.
Wear a Watch
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget to bring a watch to the test. Many of us are used to using our phones to check the time, but you won’t have access to your phone during the test. Instead, wear a watch to track how quickly you’re moving through the exam. A watch is also a good idea because you may not be able to easily read the clock in the test center depending on where you’re sitting.
Do Easy Questions First
Many students lose precious time by spending too much of it on questions that are difficult. Try to work through the exam by answering all of the easy questions first. Then go back and work through topics you have a harder time with.
The SAT test is laid out with the easiest questions at the beginning of the exam. The questions get progressively harder as you work towards the end. If you feel like you’re getting stuck trying to find the correct answer, skip the question and come back to it at the end if you have extra time.
Highlight Important Information
As you work through word problems or read through the reading and writing passages, underline important information. You can also jot down notes on the most important information or the goal of the passage. This will help you answer the questions without having to go back and reread every word.
Use the Full Test Time
If you happen to finish a section with extra time leftover, don’t just sit there and daydream. Use the extra time to go back and check the questions you had problems with. Double-check your work, and ensure you filled in the correct answer bubble for each question.
Prepare for the SAT With a Tutor
Working with an SAT prep tutor can help you prepare for the test and get the best score possible. Online tutoring platforms like TutorMe offer access to the highest quality tutors so you can learn and develop techniques to help you master subject matter and time management for test day. Whether you want a tutor to help you with SAT subject tests or someone who can elaborate on basic math or science topics, you’ll find the perfect tutor.
Best of all, TutorMe’s tutors are available 24/7 so you can ask last-minute questions the morning before the test. Our SAT tutors know what it’s like to take the college admissions exam and can help you prepare by going over important topics and offering time management tools.