A Question of Time: SAT and ACT

In The Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss discuss the issue of time in standardized college entrance exams.

How long do the exams take?


  • 25 minutes for 7 sections in essay, critical reading and writing, and math
  • 20 minutes for 2 sections of each for math, critical reading and writing
  • 10 minute for a section of multiple choice section

TOTAL 3 hours and 45 minutes


  • 45 minutes English
  • 60 minutes math
  • 35 minutes reading
  • 35 minutes science
  • 30 minutes essay

TOTAL 3 hours and 25 minutes (students with disabilities get extra time)

What are the main issues?

  • Timed tests create pressurized situations that do not necessarily showcase the student’s abilities.
  • Real academic tasks rarely require the ability to rapidly answer SAT or ACT style questions (though speed may be helpful), and academia should test “background knowledge, seriousness of purpose and effort… essentials of good scholarship” (Howard Garner, Harvard University educator). 
  • Slower students (regardless of their ability or academic dedication) and students with educational disabilities are not given extra time. Getting “diagnosed” with a learning problem is expensive

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