How Long Do You Have To Write An Essay On The Sat

Time pressure can bring out your worst instincts as an SAT test-taker.  After all, how often on a high school English or Math test do you have one minute or less to answer a question?

Learn how to budget your time on each section of the SAT, and get the pacing tips you need for the score of your dreams.

How Long Does the SAT Take?

The SAT clocks in at 3 hours (3 hours and 15 minutes with breaks). And if you choose to sign up for the optional essay, the SAT takes 3 hours and 50 minutes to complete (or 4 hours, 5 minutes with breaks).

SAT Test Length by Section

How are those 3 hours broken up by section? Here’s what your SAT test day schedule looks like:

SectionTimeNumber of Questions
Reading65 min52
Writing and Language35 min44
Math80 min58
Essay (optional)50 min1
TOTAL180 min
(230 min with Essay)
154 + 1 Essay (optional)

Tips for SAT Pacing

Are you ready for your SAT date? The biggest mistake many test-takers make is to spend too little time on the easy and medium questions, and too much time on the hard ones. The problem with this approach is that if you rush through the easy and medium questions, you are almost certain to make a few careless mistakes. Here are the pacing steps that will help you improve your score.

1. Slow Down, Score More

You’re not scored on how many questions you do. You’re scored on how many questions you answer correctly. Doing fewer questions can mean more correct answers overall!

2. Mimic the Real Thing

When you take practice tests, time yourself exactly as you will be timed on the real SAT. Develop a sense of how long 35 minutes is, for example, and how much time you can afford to spend on cracking difficult problems. If you know ahead of time what to expect, you won’t be as nervous.

3. Don’t Get Bogged Down on the Tough Questions

Don’t let yourself get trapped by hard or time-consuming questions. Stop the part of your brain that says, “But I’ve already spent so much time working on this question . . .  I know I can finish it!” If you’re stumped or running short on time, guess and move on. Learn more SAT tips for completing questions out of order. 

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Studying for the SAT isn’t just about practicing math problems and passage reading—it's also an exercise in timing and pacing. The sheer length of the SAT test, as well as its difficult content, can make it an intimidating challenge.

Read on for our guide to the SAT’s length, individual section times, and section ordering. Moreover, learn how to deal with fatigue during the test.


Detailed Guide: SAT Test Length

The SAT is three hours (180 minutes) long in total, excluding the optional essay and breaks. With the optional essay, the total test time increases to three hours and 50 minutes.

Here's an overview of the SAT test length:

SectionOrder on Test Total # of Questions Total Time (Minutes)
Break 1210
Writing and Language34435
Math No Calculator42025
Break 255
Math Calculator63855
Break 372
Essay (Optional)8150


The Math section is the only section separated into two pieces: a No Calculator and a Calculator section. As you can see, the No Calculator section comes first and asks 20 questions in 25 minutes, while the Calculator section comes second and asks 38 questions in 55 minutes. Altogether, then, you'll get 58 questions and 80 minutes for Math.

You'll also get a total of three breaks (two if you're not taking the optional Essay):

  • 10-minute break after the Reading section but before the Writing and Language section
  • five-minute break after the Math No Calculator section but before the Math Calculator section
  • A very short two-minute break after the Math Calculator section (if you're staying for the Essay section, that is—otherwise, you're done and may leave!)


The SAT Isn't Just Long—It's Also Intense

The SAT is a long test—more than four hours, from check-in to the end (if you're doing the essay)! However, it can feel as though it moves fairly quickly because of the number of questions you have to answer on each section.

Here is an overview of the number of questions you'll have on each SAT section, in addition to the approximate time you'll have to answer each question:

Section# of QuestionsTotal TimeTime per Question 
Reading5265 minutes1 minute 15 seconds
Writing and Language4435 minutes47 seconds
Math No Calculator2025 minutes1 minute 15 seconds
Math Calculator3855 minutes1 minute 26 seconds


Even though your approximate time per question is usually more than a minute, on the actual SAT things will be a little more complicated.

First of all, you'll likely move through easier questions much more quickly and need more time for harder questions.

Secondly, if you want to leave time at the end of a section to check your answers, you'll have to spend less time on each question. Keep in mind that for the Reading and Writing sections, you will also have to spend some time reading the passages.

In addition, note that stamina is incredibly important. While the old SAT broke up the test into 10 small sections, the current SAT forces you to tackle each subject in one large chunk. Two out of four sections are just about an hour long. So not only do you have to move quickly question-to-question, but you also need to maintain your test-taking speed for a long period of time. Building that kind of stamina takes practice!


How to Prepare for the SAT Exam Length: 3 Tips

Below, we go over our three best tips for preparing for the SAT exam length. These will help you feel prepared for test day and teach you how to stay focused during the exam.


#1: Take Full-Length SAT Practice Tests

The best way to prepare for the timing and intensity of the SAT is to take full-length, strictly timed practice tests. This way, even if you're someone who easily gets tired during long stretches of testing, you can get used to the SAT’s format and time expectations.

Make sure you're using official practice tests (i.e., those created by the College Board). Don't rely on old practice tests to help you out since these differ a lot from the current SAT structure. Be sure to print out your test ahead of time and find a quiet place to take it, such as a library.

As you take your test, time yourself as you'll be timed on the actual SAT. This means no giving yourself extra time on a section and no skipping ahead if you finish one early! You should also take the breaks as described in the table at the beginning of this article.


You need to build up endurance and practice your pacing for the SAT—just like training for a race.


#2: Do Practice Tests on Weekends

The best time to take official SAT practice tests is on a Saturday or Sunday morning so you can get a good idea of what your energy level will be like the day of the actual test. Sure, it might be easier to fit in a practice test late on a Sunday night, but you'll have to take the real test in the morning, so you should practice with that time in mind.

Pretend you're waking up for the actual test. Waking up early and jumping into an SAT practice test probably isn’t your ideal way to start a Saturday, but it’s the best way to be prepare for the actual SAT. Plus, it'll preserve your Saturday afternoon and evening for more fun activities!


#3: Time Yourself on Individual Practice Sections

As you study for the different SAT sections, make sure to periodically take an entire practice section with only the time you're given on the test.

For example, after a week of focusing on SAT Reading, take one or two Reading practice tests and give yourself 65 minutes—the time you'll have on the actual exam for that section. This will allow you to get used to the timing on the SAT and further build up your test-taking stamina.


What’s Next?

Now that you know how long the test will take, read about the best places to take the SAT. 

Want additional SAT help? Get tips on how to work quickly and save time during the SAT. 

Preparing for test day? Check out our top test-day tips so you can be both mentally and physically ready to take on the SAT. 


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:



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