When preparing for the SAT (or any other standardized tests like the PSAT or SAT Subject Tests), the time constraints of the exam in question are always one of the primary concerns and areas of focus in preparation.
As a result, many students who are preparing for the SAT test may find themselves asking: “How long is each section of the SAT?” Figuring out a good pace when taking the exam can help students maximize their scores and get them one step closer to admission to their dream schools, especially those with high SAT score expectations.
In this article, we will break down and discuss the length and time constraints of each section of the SAT, and also discuss and analyze some related topics regarding test prep.
How Long is Each Section of the SAT?
First, we will discuss the lengths and time constraints of the four main sections of the SAT, which are Reading, Writing & Language, Math (No Calculator), and Math (Calculator).
For test takers, understanding how long each section will be is an important part of SAT prep! You should also keep in mind that the four sections of the SAT are scored in two groups: Reading and Writing in one, and Math (encompassing both math sections).
The total test time, not including breaks and without the optional essay, is 180 minutes for the SAT.
How Long is the SAT Reading Section?
The SAT Reading Section contains 52 questions and has a time limit of 65 minutes.
This means, if you were to spend equal time on each question, you’d have approximately 75 seconds per question on the SAT Reading Section.
In terms of pure number of minutes allowed, the SAT Reading Section is the longest section on the SAT. This means you have the most time to complete the SAT Reading Section relative to the other sections of the SAT.
However, many students find the SAT Reading Section to be one of the most challenging to complete within its allotted time. This is likely because the SAT Reading Section has the most questions of any section on the SAT, and because it involves often lengthy and complicated passages.
However, if you practice sufficiently, and time yourself during practice, you can likely prepare yourself for the length SAT Reading Section.
How Long is the SAT Writing & Language Section?
The SAT Writing & Language Section contains 44 questions which must be completed in 35 minutes.
This means, if you were to spend an equal amount of time on each question within the section, you would have approximately 48 seconds per question on the SAT Writing & Language Section, which is the least amount of time per question on any of the sections of the SAT.
Many students may find themselves concerned about the relatively short amount of time provided to complete the SAT Writing & Language Section, especially given the fairly large number of questions on the section.
However, many students find this to be evened out by the fact that, comparatively, questions tend to be a bit shorter and less time-consuming on the Writing & Language section, as opposed to the Reading section.
The Language test section might seem difficult for many students, but studying the types of Writing questions will help you get an edge on the section and reduce your overall test taking time.
How Long is the SAT Math (No Calculator) Section?
The SAT Math (No Calculator) Section contains 20 questions, which must be completed in a 25 minute time limit.
This means that, if you were to allocate an equal amount of time to each question on the SAT Math (No Calculator) Section, you would spend approximately 75 seconds on each question on the section.
While the No Calculator Section takes the least amount of time overall of any of the sections on the SAT, it also has the least amount of questions, which means that it isn’t the section with the most time pressure in terms of seconds per question (that, as we discussed, is actually the SAT Writing & Language Section).
Again, understanding the different types of questions the SAT will ask in both Math sections will allow students to study specific Math concepts ahead of time and work through problems more quickly on test day.
How Long is the SAT Math (Calculator) Section?
The SAT Math (Calculator) Section consists of 38 questions, which must be completed in a 55 minute time limit.
In other words, if you were to dedicate an equal amount of time to each question on the SAT Math (Calculator) Section, you would end up spending approximately 87 seconds on each question on the section.
The SAT Math (Calculator) Section is the second-longest section on the SAT in terms of total time, and the third longest in terms of number of questions. But it turns out to actually provide the most amount of time in terms of seconds per question of any of the sections on the SAT.
However, many of the questions are quite lengthy and complex, so this may even out for many students. Preparing under timed conditions is the best way to be ready for this or any section on the SAT.
What if I Don’t Finish the SAT on Time?
While the overall SAT takes a combined three hours (excluding breaks), each section is timed separately, as we discussed. This means that you can only use the allotted time on each section, and time does not carry over. Many students wonder: “What happens if I don’t answer every question on a section of the SAT?”
While you naturally want to aim to answer every question on all sections, as there is no penalty for guessing on the SAT, sometimes that doesn’t work out for one reason or another.
While this isn’t ideal, don’t worry! All your other answers will still be graded even if you don’t finish the entire section. If you can’t answer every question properly, you should still bubble in something for each question, since there is no penalty for guessing. For the grid in questions in the math sections, try bubbling in random numbers if you have leftover time.
Problem solving for over a hundred multiple choice questions is stressful and difficult on test date. If you’re unhappy with your test score or need a higher one for your college applications after your first attempt, don’t be too hard on yourself. Usually, the second attempt of the SAT will be easier since you understand the SAT’s timing and have experience. Just keep studying and taking practice tests to prepare.
Do Most Students Finish the SAT on Time?
Generally, many students don’t finish every question on the SAT due to time constraints.
Students tend to find the ACT to be more of a time pressure test than the SAT, but the SAT exam time constraints can be challenging as well — which makes practicing under them all the more important.
If you’re worried about the strict time constraints, try taking timed SAT practice tests. For multiple choice question exams like the SAT, it is extremely helpful to get a feel for how long you should be spending on each passage or question. This can also be especially helpful for the reading test section, because you have to quickly read while also retaining a high volume of information — practice makes perfect.
Taking practice tests under time pressure will also make you feel like you’re in the testing room, which will hopefully decrease any test day anxiety. Keeping a calm head is also a huge factor in finishing the SAT exam on time.
While not answering every question is not the end of the world, you should strive to answer every question in time if you want to maximize your score on the SAT. Students can also minimize the chance this happens by preparing in advance (and cramming with a crash course if absolutely necessary). And, if the first attempt doesn’t go as planned, students can always retake the SAT if they have time.
Can I Get Extra Time on the SAT?
In some cases, students can receive extended timing on the SAT test only if they have a disability that causes them to work more slowly than other students.
If you need extra time in one or more of the sections, you must be approved for extended time. More information can be found on the College Board accommodations page.
Timing for the Optional SAT Essay Section
Good news: the College Board has discontinued the optional essay section. That means one less “section” and consideration to deal with during the college admissions process!
Can Tutors Help With Timing?
Balancing high school with the stress of test taking can seem like an impossible task, but working with experienced tutors who have taken the SAT exam before will definitely help you with issues even beyond timing. SAT
SoFlo SAT Tutors have high scoring graduates and attendees of top universities who have mastered the SAT as resources for students looking to maximize their scores.
Check out our virtual tutoring services to find an SAT tutor who will help you towards your score goals, whether it’s your first take, second take, or beyond.
- (Official) College Board Will No Longer Offer SAT Subject Tests or SAT with Essay: https://blog.collegeboard.org/January-2021-sat-subject-test-and-essay-faq
- College Board Accommodations Page: https://accommodations.collegeboard.org/how-accommodations-work/about-accommodations/extended-time
Additional SAT Resources
- How to Cram for the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/how-to-cram-for-the-sat/
- How to Master Geometry on the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/how-to-master-geometry-on-the-sat/
- Can You Retake the SAT? How Many Times Can I Retake the SAT?: https://soflotutors.com/blog/retake-sat/
- SAT Crash Courses | How to Cram for the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/sat-crash-course/
About the Author
William Grossman is a student at the University of Florida studying Economics. He scored a 1500 on his SAT and a 32 on his ACT. While it may seem unorthodox, William always reads the last chapter of a new book before going back to read it from the beginning — that way, he can see if the book will be any good before deciding to read the whole thing!