SAT Timeline: A Complete Guide

SAT is one of those sought-after tests that define a career pathway for the student and aids them to get into the top colleges or Ivy League they have dreamt of. Just like any competitive examination, planning and the right timing becomes of high importance and which is where guidance becomes very important. A thorough understanding of the SAT Timeline becomes crucial and some of the basic questions that come in the minds of parents and the students are:
When is the right time to actually start preparing for the SAT to get high scores?
What is the number of attempts for the test?
Which time of the year SAT exam is conducted?
What are the sections present in the examination?
Knowing additional details about these aspects will greatly increase the chances of success for the SAT aspirant. Time management becomes highly necessary not just for the preparation of the test, but also for appearing for the examination. Going through a comprehensive timeline for the SAT is the biggest milestone for excellence in a career. This guide is intended to cover everything relating to SAT and its timing – which will enable the students to plan the big day accordingly and thereby focus more on the performance in the test.

What are the Core Subjects in which the SAT is Tested?

The student is expected to be very good in English language ability in multiple sections such as Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Verbal Ability along with Reading and Writing Skills. The student is also expected to sharpen the Math skills which includes two sections: with and without a calculator. The Math syllabus includes Algebra, Advanced Math, and Data Analysis. However, some of the additional Math topics include Geometry, Trigonometry, and Math Problems involving Complex numbers. The student is also expected to have analytical ability and critical thinking to ace the examination with higher scores.

To sum it up, SAT tests the Language, Math, and Critical Ability of the student.

What is the Number of Questions in SAT?

The number of questions in SAT is based on the sectional classification and divided as follows:

Reading: These are multiple-choice and tests the language reading ability of the aspirant. The total number of questions in this section is 52.

Writing and Language: These questions test the language excellence and writing prowess of the student in-depth and are multiple-choice The total number of questions in this section is 42 in number.

Math (without Calculator): This section tests the mathematical ability of the student but without the help of a calculator. The questions are multiple-choice and 20 in number.

Math (with Calculator): This section tests the mathematical ability of the student but with the help of a calculator. The questions are multiple-choice and 38 in number.

Essay: This is an optional section in which the student can either choose to write or not to. If the student chooses to write the essay, he/she will have to write one essay on the basis of which the student’s writing ability is assessed.

When do I arrive for the SAT?

The SAT exam is scheduled to commence on Saturday mornings at 8:00 AM and it is advisable to be in the test venue well before the prescribed time – at least half an hour before.

Be an Early Bird: As some of the test centers hold multiple examinations along with SAT such as GRE and TOEFL, it takes up significant time to locate the name and test room- so early always avoiding last-minute rush! This keeps the mind focused and positive – along with sustaining the energy levels for the long duration of the exam.

Keep the Essentials Handy: Admission ticket and ID are the two most important things that you need for getting into the examination hall- hence keep the essentials handy after reaching the test center. Cross-check the name and basic details to avoid last-minute confusion and discrepancies that might hinder you from getting into the examination hall.

SAT examination centers do not allow the students post 8:00 AM to get admitted into the hall, so- be very sure of being in the test center much before the prescribed time. It is advisable to be at least half an hour before the time to ensure a smooth examination experience.

Plan the Travel Time: Knowing about the distance to get to the exam center from your place of residence will greatly help in avoiding the rush. In case, the distance is longer- plan to start from much beforehand by keeping a grace time of at least 30 minutes to reach the test center. Remember to plan the traffic hindrances and transport options well beforehand to get into the test center without obstacles or hastiness.

What Happens Next?

After getting admitted into the exam hall by 8:00 AM, you will be beginning the test by 8:30 AM and the new format of the examination is three hours fifty minutes long including the essay that is optional to take.

The SAT examination time is quite long and cumbersome. Therefore, the student needs to plan time accordingly to maintain the energy levels that can sustain throughout all the sections of the examination- from the beginning to the end.

What is the End time of SAT if I opt out of the Essay?

Your SAT examination will be reduced by an hour if you opt-out of the essay. The exam comprises the following sections that have to be taken only in the prescribed order:

Name of the Section Duration

Writing and Language

Math (without a calculator)

Math (with a calculator)

65 minutes

35 minutes

25 minutes

55 minutes

SAT Examination and Details of the Breaks

The students are allowed to take two short breaks lasting for five minutes each during:
● Post the Reading Section
● Between two Math Sections

If the student is starting the examination by 8:30 AM, he/she will be completing the test between 11:40-12:10 PM. However, if the student is opting for the essay- the exam will extend an hour more.

What is the Duration with the Optional Essay?

If the student opts for the essay, the exam will extend for four hours ten minutes. The student will be allowed a break of 5-10 minutes before starting the essay- to refresh and be prepared.
The biggest concern and thought that comes into the student’s mind who takes the SAT is- does the exam always start and end with the same duration. Unless there is a special exemption for the student to take an extended time, the exam is supposed to have the same duration on a global level- whether in test centers of the US or outside the country.

What are the possible causes of delay in SAT?

● Some test centers might be a little flexible in terms of break timings that lead to an extension of the break time from five minutes to ten minutes.
● If there is a possibility of external noise or the student getting dismissed for violating an examination guideline.
● One particular incident of misprint of a test booklet happened in June 2015, which led to the extension of the exam time and also became a topic of controversy among SAT takers. This resulted in some students getting extra time in appearing for section and the examination board took strict measures not to repeat the same issue again.
● The student can be assured of allotting a minimum of three and half hours and a maximum of four and a half hours for the SAT exam time as it is standardized among all the test centers. Unless there are severe discrepancies, the changes in the duration are extremely rare to commence.

Top 10 Effective tips for preparing yourself on the big day- The SAT Exam Day:

Appearing for the SAT examination is quite an overwhelming scenario for every aspirant as it can be a deciding factor in terms of career decisions. Last-minute jittery nerves are a common occurrence but by following these effective tips, the aspirant can become quite confident and excel on the big day. No matter how hard you practice and how many hours you have spent preparing for the examination, the most important thing that matters is how well you perform on the big day. Here are some of the useful tips that can help the student to keep the balance and maintain poise:

  1. Avoid Last-Minute Rush: As generic as it might sound, a last-minute rush is the biggest cause of trouble. Pack all the stationery you need – Number 2 pencils, calculator the night before the examination. Plan the travel accordingly so that you would reach the exam hall by 7:45 AM.
  2. Know the Dos and Don’ts of the Exam Thoroughly: It is common to overlook some rules of the examination that look too obvious, but make sure you double and triple-check the rules on the test day once again- to ensure no trouble. Some of the students might be excellent in preparing for the examination and thorough with the subjects, but a minor crossing of the rule will cause a high price.
  3. Plan One Hour for Checking in: Remember that the entire process of checking in the examination hall and the signing-in process takes nearly an hour. Prepare yourself mentally for the cumbersome process of checking in and take a while to relax the nerves before starting the examination.
  4. Sustain the Energy Levels: The SAT exam is a minimum of three and half hours long and a maximum of four and half hours- this needs tremendous energy levels and be sure to mentally lock the long-time duration in the mind. Some of the effective ideas to sustain the energy would be to familiarize yourself with the atmosphere in the exam center, taking deep breaths in regular intervals of time.
  5. Hydrate Yourself: One cannot emphasize more on the effect and importance of hydration when it comes to regular health and maintaining confident energy levels. Have water in regular intervals of time throughout the examination.
  6. Move During the Breaks: For a long duration exam like SAT, making the best use of the little break time given becomes crucial. Make sure you move as much as you can during the 5-10minute breaks given. This keeps the muscles active and the mind alert to focus on the next section of the test.
  7. Attitude is Everything: Having a positive outlook towards the exam makes all the difference when it comes to performing on the big day. Give yourself enough credit for the journey till SAT examination and the hard work that has been put up all the while till the D-day. This approach towards examination greatly impacts the overall score and performance.
  8. Don’t Over-Revise: A common mistake which most of the students make is- thinking that the more you revise, the better the results. However, this can be highly detrimental to the final performance. Over-revising can only tire the mind and leave you exhausted for the most important four hours of the time- the exam duration. Avoid over-reading and obsessive revision on the day till the test time.
  9. Get Enough Sleep: A good night’s sleep of a minimum of 8-9 hours will refresh the mind and prepare for the long hours of the exam. Do not underestimate the power of good sleep and remember- a restful mind can perform at the best of its abilities.
  10. Keep Stress at Bay: For a long-duration exam like SAT, the student can naturally succumb to stress on whether they can complete the exam and each of the sections in time. The best way to beat stress is to be aware of it and keep it at a distance.

What does the SAT Score Comprise?

The grand total SAT score is the addition of two section scores and ranges between 400-1600.
Apart from the grand score, the sectional score ranges from 200-800 which tests the student in Math, Writing, and Critical Reasoning.
In order to additionally assess the student’s individual ability. A sub-score is also provided for Language, Writing, Reading, and Mathematics on a scale of 1-15.
The score for the Essay (if the student opts for it): This score is applicable to the students who have opted for the essay writing section. It consists of:

Name of the Essay Section Points






Percentile Score:

This is a numeric value that compares the student’s overall performance in SAT in comparison to the other test-takers for that particular examination date. Guide to Check Percentile Results:

It is important to note that SAT score is different from SAT percentile. While SAT score measures the student’s overall performance in each of the sections, percentile gives an analysis of the student’s performance compared to the top performer for that batch.

Here is a detailed guide on how the percentile of SAT is calculated based on the score:

SAT Scaled Score Range (Out of 1600) Percentile
1600 99+
1550 99+
1510 99
1450 98
1400 95
1330 90
1230 80
1170 71
1110 61
1060 51
1000 40
950 31
890 21
810 11
750 5
680 1
630 1-
400 1-

Is there any Limit for the Number of SAT Attempts?

Knowing about the maximum number of SAT attempts will enable the student to plan the career and multiple alternative options accordingly. While there is no official limit to take up SAT, it is recommended not to take up the examination with more than six attempts to ensure a smooth career graph. The main reason for this is- the colleges that offer admissions can look up the number of attempts you have taken for the SAT and it can impact the same.

The Final Takeaway

Taking up SAT and excelling in it can be a crucial step in defining the career goals of the student. Having a thorough understanding of the timeline for the exam will empower them with confidence and bring about a positive outcome in the overall performance.