Studying for the SAT? It helps to brush up on your math and reading, but studying up on the test itself can also be extremely helpful in increasing your confidence. Once you answer the question, “How long is the SAT?” you can overcome any nervousness by applying a strategy that builds confidence in your performance.
The SAT begins with the Reading Section, followed by Writing and Language, the no-calculator use portion of Math, the calculator use portion of Math, and finally the optional essay. The time allotted for responding to test questions is 3 hours. Completing the optional essay adds 50 minutes to the total. Here’s the breakdown by section:
The questions assess your college readiness based on your knowledge and understanding of fundamental topics. Some questions will be easy while others will be more difficult and take longer to complete. Keep track of the time remaining for the section as you progress through the test so that you can answer questions efficiently.
Most of the questions on the test are multiple-choice format. The grid-in math section is not multiple-choice and the optional essay requires writing. The score for the SAT is based on the Raw Score, which means only correct questions count. Incorrect or unanswered questions don’t take away from your raw score.
Coming in at a three-hour minimum length with only short breaks, the SAT requires you to sit and concentrate for a long time. Once you begin, you must stay until every person completes the exam, and the proctor releases you. Generally, this means you’re in your seat at the test center for the entire 3 hours, or three hours and 50 minutes with the optional essay.
When discussing the length of the SAT, it’s important to keep the whole test day in mind. Your test admission ticket will provide your arrival and test times, and some centers will manage the day a bit differently than others. A typical schedule looks like this:
- Test center doors open: 7:45 a.m.
- Test center doors close: 8:00 a.m.
- Test begins: after the test coordinator provides instructions, the exam starts at between 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
- Breaks: test coordinator will announce a 10-minute break and a 5-minute break, possibly a quick 2-minute break if you complete the essay
- Test-taking: 3 hours to 3 hours and 50 minutes
Be the Early Bird
If it’s 7:30 a.m. on test day and you don’t know where your admission ticket is, you’re in trouble. Prepare for test day before it happens. Make sure you know the test location and how long it will take to get there. Set up arrangements if you aren’t driving yourself. Plan to leave 30 minutes before the arrival time on your ticket to avoid last-minute delays.
A few days prior to your test, check the test center website for items needed for the day. Get everything together and put in a place that you won’t miss as you head out the door. Don’t take anything that’s not allowed unless you plan to leave them in your vehicle.
Get a couple of good nights of sleep before the test. Don’t plan a friend gathering until 2 a.m. the night before and expect to wake up refreshed! Set your alarm early, get ready for the day, and leave at the planned time. These tips will keep your stress down, allowing for smoother, less anxious testing.
Again, consult your ticket in advance so you know when to arrive. Leave 30 minutes early to avoid unexpected delays from traffic or otherwise. You won’t be allowed to enter the site once testing has begun, so it’s better to be early and wait in the parking lot than risk being late and forced to reschedule. If you have questions or concerns about the times and rules, contact your test center.
The Game Plan
To shake those nerves and be ready for test day, you need a game plan or test preparation strategy. Here are some tried and true tips to help you:
Study More than You Think You Need
How many times has your high school teacher asked, “Did you study for the test?” The same goes for the SAT. Although the SAT should reflect a body of knowledge learned during high school, not everyone’s high school classes and performance are exactly the same. Plus, you may need a reminder on topics studied in your freshman or sophomore years. Studying helps you to fill in the gaps of knowledge and understanding to be more successful on the test.
Get a good study guide and flashcards, use online resources, and join a friend or study group to keep on track. When you have a good base of knowledge from schoolwork and studying, you can answer more questions quickly and correctly, saving yourself time and stress.
Put in the Practice Time
Many students are tempted to skip the SAT practice tests or to take them only once or twice. Don’t give in to the temptation! Practice tests help you in several ways:
- Practice tests show you how questions are worded or presented and the types of responses given, things that trip up a lot of first-time test takers
- Untimed tests can become part of your study sessions, identifying weaknesses and enabling you to work on incorrect responses
- Timed tests help you learn the pace needed to complete each section and help you to get used to the length of time and amount of concentration needed
- Getting a good night’s sleep and following the test day schedule, including taking a timed practice test, on a day prior to test day allows you to adjust your test day preparation as needed
These practice test tips can lead to improved performance on test day. You’ll become more efficient and more knowledgeable about the test format and content, which will boost your overall confidence.
To Answer or Not to Answer: That is the Test Day’s Question
Getting stuck on a really difficult question that you don’t have a good guess on the correct answer can waste time. Answer those items you’re certain of or can narrow down to two responses. Skip the others. If you’ve answered all those you could and more time is available, go back through the unanswered questions and make your best guesses. Since your score is based only on correctly answered questions, wrong answers, or unanswered questions won’t affect your results. You’re better off taking a chance at getting each item right.
You made it to test day! Expect some nervousness to creep in. It’s normal. If you go into the test prepared, you’ll feel a lot less nervous than if you hadn’t learned about the test, studied, practiced, and got ready for test day early. Now, you can move forward with confidence and overcome the challenge that the SAT presents!