What to Expect on SAT Test Day

Last updated: Nov 28, 2018

College Board’s SAT has been a source of test day jitters for aspiring college students since 1926. The test and testing methods have evolved, but the jitters and the best ways to cope with them haven’t: Study until your confidence level tames those nerves, and know what to expect on SAT test day.

What to Know Before You Go

If you haven’t scheduled the test, these College Board websites can tell you what you need to know about:

When it comes to test day rules, College Board covers all the bases here:

College Board is serious about its rules on electronic devices allowed in the testing area: “If your device makes noise or you are seen using it at any time, including during breaks, you may be dismissed immediately, your scores can be canceled, and the device may be confiscated, and its contents inspected.”

Prohibited devices include cell phones, audio players or recorders, tablets, laptops, notebooks, timers, cameras, digital watches, and any devices “that can be used to record, transmit, receive, or play back audio, photographic, text, or video content (with the exception of CD players used for Language with Listening Subject Tests only).”

Test sheet and pencil

Once You’re There

It helps to know what to expect come test day, and College Board offers a deep dive on the details of taking the test. There’s even a video on tips to prepare for test day, along with a checklist of what to take and what to leave at home. Here are some of the day's key elements:

Test Schedule

You don’t have to be an SAT veteran to have a feel for what the test will be like, but it helps if you have taken advantage of practice tests, which also afford scholarship opportunities. Here’s how the testing progresses:

  • 65-minute reading section (five passages to read and 52 questions to answer)
  • 10-minute break for snacking and bathroom time
  • 35-minute section on writing and language
  • 25-minute section on math (no calculator)
  • 5-minute break
  • 55-minute math section (with calculator)
  • If you’re not doing the essay section, you’re done.
  • Essay participants get a two-minute break, then tackle the 50-minute writing section.

The Timeline

The process takes about four hours if you aren’t doing the essay section and about five if you are doing the essay section:

  • Test sites open at 7:45 a.m.
  • No one admitted after 8 a.m.
  • Testing begins between 8:30 and 9 a.m.
  • Projected completion time for test without essay is 12 p.m.
  • Projected completion time for test with essay is 1 p.m.

Important Details

Other things to expect:

  • The proctor will collect prohibited electronic devices before testing begins.
  • Seating will be assigned by the test coordinator.
  • Test coordinator will read test instructions aloud and answer questions on procedures.
  • Test coordinator will signal start and finish times on each section.
  • Starting a section early or revisiting sections isn’t an option.
  • Skipping a section “may result in score cancellation, delays, or both.”
  • After testing, the coordinator will inventory test books to ensure everything has been returned, then return electronic devices and dismiss participants.

High school students taking the SAT

Packing for the Test

You definitely will need:

  • At least two No. 2 pencils
  • Your admission ticket and photo ID
  • Acceptable calculator

Things that could make your day easier include:

  • Spare calculator and batteries
  • Snacks and drinks for breaks
  • A watch with no alarms and no calculating or computing capacity

If you’re at the SAT stage of the college admissions game, it’s about time to start sizing up your college options. It might be too costly to visit each campus that interests you, but virtual tours are an affordable and efficient option.

And it’s not too early to start communicating with admissions offices. The USF Office of Admissions always is ready with advice and answers. Contact us online or by phone at 813-974-3350.