The entire process of taking the SAT takes a long time. You’ll need to factor in the test center registration process, taking the SAT itself, and getting your scores back.
Getting through the registration process for the SAT doesn’t take a long time necessarily, but you have to plan ahead.
Be in line at the test center at 7:45 AM at the very latest. Doors open at 7:45, but test center doors close at 8:00 and they will not let you in after the doors are closed, even if the test hasn’t begun yet. It doesn’t take that long to get everyone in the room, but the process before and afterward can take a long time.
The college counseling staff at your school might suggest you arrive at the test center much earlier at 7:45. Take that advice seriously. If you’re testing at a full test center, you want to have as much flexibility to find your testing classroom and get settled.
Don’t forget to bring everything you need (ticket, ID, SAT-approved calculator, snacks, no cell phone).
Not every proctor has offered the SAT multiple times. With that limited experience and given the recent scandals in proctoring and cheating, all the staff are likely to be extremely careful and by the book. It might take the SAT staff a half an hour to an hour to get the test going once the doors are closed.
Don’t forget to eat breakfast; you might not start the test until 9:00 AM.
The SAT covers four major sections and an optional essay. The test will always unfold the same way:
To be precise, then, the SAT takes 3 hours 15 minutes without the Essay or 4 hours 7 minutes with the optional Essay, including breaks.
If you’re not providing your own transportation to the SAT, these numbers mean pickup time after the SAT is around noon if you’re one of the students leaving before the optional Essay section begins and more like 1 PM if you’re taking the essay.
Keep in mind that your phone will be powered off during the test and likely collected by the proctor. If you are seen using your device before the test is over your scores will automatically be canceled.
You won’t be able to call for a ride during the test, so plan ahead if that’s something of concern to you.
You may have noticed in the test section schedule that the breaks between sections are extremely short: you only get one ten-minute break and one five- minute break during the test. The two-minute break before the essay section is negligible: it’s only long enough for students who aren’t taking the essay to leave.
Always keep your ticket with you, because you need it to get in and out of the testing room.
Plan when you’re going to use the restroom and grab a snack. SAT takes so long that it’s irresponsible not to eat a snack somewhere during a break, even if that’s just a handful of nuts or some pieces of fruit. Feed your brain so you don’t fizzle out on the test.
Many students receive extra time accommodations on the SAT, and those accommodations significantly alter how long the SAT takes. The College Board requires that your college counselor through your high school applies on your behalf for extra time accommodations in an effort to ensure that all applications for extra time are vouched for by a team of professionals.
You are also unlikely to receive extra time accommodations on the SAT if you don’t already have them in school. Documented disabilities for the SAT include learning disabilities outlined in an educational report, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, processing issues, and vision issues, among other things.
Once your counselor applies for you, College Board authorities approve you not only for extra time but how much extra time you have. Some students get time and a half, others get double time. Rarely does someone actually get approved for untimed time.
Typically, students who receive extra time receive accommodations of time and a half–an extra fifty percent on the clock. The entire SAT takes 4 ½ hours when those students don’t take the optional essay and five hours and forty-five minutes when they do.
Extra time accommodations are provided in the same test centers as the regular SAT, but students with different timing are seated in separate classrooms so they don’t distract other students and other students don’t distract them when they leave.
Even though the testing time for the SAT takes longer with extra time, the breaks do not. Extra time students get the same ten, five, and two-minute breaks; all the extra time is allotted only for student work.
Not only that, but students are required to remain in the classroom, seated, until the time is called for each individual section, which means getting approved for extra time for the test when you don’t actually need it (which, despite rumors to the contrary, is very difficult to do), is not desirable. You’re liable to get so bored or tired if you finish the test early that you won’t perform your best, anyway.
You can spend hours and hours preparing for all the math and language arts on the SAT you want, but if you’re not ready to take a test longer than three hours, you can’t consider yourself fully prepared.
Consider the length of the SAT another element of the test that might lower your score if you’re not prepared to handle it. For students who love their smartphones and spend most of their free time online, it’s a real challenge to focus on a single task for most of a morning and some of the afternoon.
If you’d like to learn more about what’s on the SAT, check out my post that shows you how to write the SAT essay. In addition, if you’d like to know where to start with studying, check out our lists of the Best SAT Prep Courses and Best SAT Prep Books.