How Long Does The SAT Take?


The SAT is a standardized entrance exam used by colleges and universities to make decisions regarding students’ college admission. Many universities around the world require SAT as part of their admission requirements into their institutions. It is a multiple-choice structured exam that was created by the College Board to measure students’ readiness for university. The exam tests fields such as mathematics, reading, and writing. The idea was to create a level playing field where all students applying to a university can be evaluated by the university’s admissions board. Contained in this article are details pertaining to how long the SAT takes, and what time the exam starts and ends as well as other details regarding the timing of the exam. 

How Long Does The SAT Take?

In this section of the article, we will be having a total breakdown of the SAT exam. The exam is made up of three sections with an optional fourth SAT essay section. The full time of the exam is 180 minutes minus breaks with 50 minutes attributed to the optional essay section. This is how the exam is broken down:

  • Reading: 65 minutes (52 questions with 75 seconds per question)
  • Writing and language: 35 minutes ( 44 questions with 48 seconds per question)
  • Math – no calculator: 25 minutes (20 questions with 75 seconds per question)
  • Math – calculator:  55 minutes (38 questions with 87 seconds per question)
  • Optional essay: 50 minutes for one essay

What Time Does The SAT Start And End?

The SAT exams start typically the doors to the testing center close at 8:00 a.m. and end around 1 or 1:30 PM. Students are expected to be present and seated at testing centers at 7:45 a.m. Once seated, the center proctor will proceed to collect all electronic devices from students and check to ensure that all backpacks are put away and calculators are approved. Once everything is verified and in check, the proctor will begin to administer test materials and read the preliminary instructions. Depending on how long it takes the proctor to distribute test materials and read instructions, the test would begin around 8:30 or 9 a.m. 

There may not be a fixed time for when the test ends. The time may vary depending on the testing center or the room within the same testing center. The test itself takes about three hours with a fifteen-minute break, there is also time spent for setting up the exam, administering test materials, and reading instructions all of these add to the overall time that a student would spend at the center. Some students may opt to take the optional essay which is an additional 50 minutes to the overall time. Some tests also include a 20 minutes extra section where future SAT questions are tested. 

Summarily, students that do not opt for the optional essay question should wrap up with the exam around 12:15 and 12:45 pm. Students taking the essay would spend an extra 50 minutes which would mean they will round up with the exam around 1, or 1:30 p.m. Once the test booklets have been collected, the proctor will return all electronic devices, seized contrabands, and backpacks to the students. 

How Long Is The SAT With Breaks?

During the exam, several breaks allow students to rest and mentally prepare before the next section of the exam is administered. The first break is 10 minutes long and it is scheduled between the reading test and the writing and language test. There is another 5 minutes break scheduled between the two mathematics tests and lastly a 2-minute break before the essay section or the occasional 20-minute section. That said, SAT exams with breaks would be much longer. The full duration of the exam including breaks is about 4 hours if the student takes the essay. If there is a 20-minute section and an essay, the overall time spent would be about 4hours 45minutes. 

During the exam, the proctor will announce how many students have left. Timing announcements will typically come halfway through the section and a second announcement would be given within the last 5 minutes of the section. The last announcement would be when the time is up and you will be asked to stop work and put your pencils down. 

How Many Times Can You Take The SAT?

There is no limit to how many times a student can take the SAT. Students can take the test as many times as they want but it is recommended that students take the test twice: spring of junior year and fall of senior year. It is common for students to have a better score the second time they write the exam. The question students have most of the time is which score the college admissions board will consider. When making admission decisions, the college admissions board will consider the higher score. If their second score is at least 100 points higher, there are chances that the student could earn a scholarship worth about $2000. 

Taking a second test may also be beneficial thanks to a process used by schools known as super scoring. Super scoring is where the best Math score is combined with the best reading and writing scores to come up with the SAT score even if the individual scores are from different test dates. Whatever your reasons may be, it is highly recommended that students take the SAT more than once. 


In conclusion, as much as these exams try to be regulated by the book, there may be unforeseen circumstances that may extend the duration of the overall exam. Students on their part should ensure to be at the exam premises on time. The test center doors open as early as 7:45 am and students must be on the premises before then. There are three important factors that students should consider. One of those factors is travel time. Factor in your travel time to ensure that you are at the test center on time. Students with specific needs may have their time extended or be allowed to have more frequent breaks or may be given more time per section. Make sure to make your needs known to the exam proctor before testing begins. 

Helen Vlasova
Helen is the co-founder of, a career guidance website for students and young professionals. She has a degree in English from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

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