How to Manage Time on New SAT Reading

So you’re taking the brand new SAT. You’ve probably heard that unlike the old SAT, which was broken into 10 smallish chunks, the new SAT only has a few large sections. These long sections can seem daunting, but by practicing the SAT in timed sets, being aware of your time, and using time management strategies, you’ll fly through the 65 minute reading section with confidence!

Taking Time Into Your Own Hands on the SAT

Wearing your own watch is your best bet for keeping track of time. Sorry, my tech-loving friends, but it’s best to leave your Apple Watch at home and stick to vintage. We don’t want your test proctor to see you with screens and jump to a negative conclusion. Wristwatch or pocket watch, as long as you avoid beeping, blinking, or glowing you should be fine.


Photo by Alice in Wonderland Wiki

Testing rooms are usually outfitted with a clock, but in order to avoid awkwardly twisting around to check the time every few minutes, it’s easiest to wear your own timepiece. However, your test proctor will likely be measuring your pencils-down time with the room clock, so it’s a good idea to make sure your watch is synced with the room clock when you first arrive. Just the presence of those ticking hands reminds you that your test-taking time is not unlimited, but wearing a watch isn’t helpful unless you use it!

Be Intentional with SAT Timing

Wearing a watch increases your awareness of time, and that’s the first step in deciding what to do with it. In the hour and five minutes of the SAT reading section, you need to navigate through five passage sets and a grand total of 52 questions.

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      – You’ll have an average of thirteen minutes per passage and question set


      – (But some of the passages may take longer than others!)


      – Most passages will be between 1 and 2 pages


    – One of the five sets will include two short related passages with combined questions.

It’s a good idea to give yourself about 10 – 11 minutes per set, so you can spend an extra thirty-sixty seconds on tough questions and save a minute or two at the end to check your answers.

Schedule Your Sets

This is where your watch comes in handy. Check what time you start a passage and gauge what time you should be moving on to the next passage. Write down your target time on your test booklet. It’s easy to forget what time you started or what your target completion time is when you’re busy remembering details from a reading passage.

You can also try setting the minute hand to 00 at the beginning of each set, so you can track the time exactly, instead of trying to count from the time you started. It’s easier to recognize at 10:21 that 21 minutes have passed than to worry about counting time while also responding to reading comprehension questions.

For each 10-minute set:

      – spend 30-60 seconds skimming the questions


      – spend 6 minutes carefully reading the passage


    – spend the final few minutes answering the questions

Skimming the questions should help you focus on the paragraphs where answers are located, while reading carefully prepares you to answer questions quickly.

Saving Time on SAT Reading Without Sacrificing Attention

Approach each passage by quickly skimming through the questions after the passage. Your goal here is not to memorize all the questions! Focusing too closely on all of the questions can take quite a bit of time, so you want to just notice the major terms or names that appear in the questions. If you already know the general ideas that will appear in the questions, those parts of the passage will already be highlighted and stand out as you read.

This time-saver can be a bold move, but I DO recommend trying this at home! In fact, some test takers feel that this maneuver actually slows them down. Try this technique during your practice sets to make sure that you’ve got it down before attempting on Test Day!

As you study, practice answering questions without spending too much time searching for the answers. You need to find proof in the passage for your answers, but you don’t want to waste time frantically flipping back and forth in the passage. Minimize time spent searching for answers by recognizing question topics before reading and by reading carefully.

Now you’re geared up for the hour-long endurance run of reading. Watch. Check. 11-13 minutes per passage. Check. Water bottle. Check. Sweat band. Che… wait. You’ll need endurance, but hopefully won’t work up too much sweat!


  • Emily Faison

    An avid reader and art enthusiast, Emily has degrees in English from Florida State University and Southeastern University. When she's not editing web content for a local magazine, you’ll probably find her catching up on her Netflix queue or reading a novel with a fresh cup of coffee at a local cafe.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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4 Responses to How to Manage Time on New SAT Reading

  1. Shekhar Chatterjee September 13, 2016 at 1:00 pm #

    I am an international student, and I sometimes face problems with catching up with time and answering context based questions. That brings in more stress and anxiety. How do I tackle this problem?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 15, 2016 at 3:22 pm #

      International students like yourself certainly do face some unique challenges on the SAT. This is especially true when it comes to SAT Reading.

      There are a few ways to overcome your anxiety– or at least be a little bit less anxious. The first thing you should do is remind yourself that you don’t need to be a native English speaker in order to do well on the SAT. With or without native proficiency, you can take advantage of good multiple choice strategies in SAT reading. You can also practice active reading strategies on the SAT and follow other best strategies for SAT Reading comprehension.

      These kinds of strategies and approaches can help you understand SAT reading passages more quickly and accurately. And they can help you get to the answers faster and get the answers right more often, with our without native-English reading skills. And doing better on the test is the BEST way to reduce SAT Reading anxiety!

  2. dhruv November 25, 2018 at 9:42 pm #

    I’m also an international student and unfortunately, I’m not getting a good score on my reading and writing section, my main drawback is time limit and reading the passage fast enough to understand the meaning of the questions. I am giving the test in a short time because I need to submit my scores, and so this is a drawback for me, can you please suggest something to overcome this problem.

    • David Recine
      David Recine November 26, 2018 at 10:09 am #

      Hi Dhruv,

      Sorry to hear that you’re facing pacing challenges as an international student. That sounds frustrating! The good news is that you are not alone. Many international students struggle with SAT Reading pacing, either because they are non-native English speakers, or because they are not-so-familiar with the SAT’s particular North American style of academic reading passage.

      Without knowing a little more about the exact challenges you’re dealing with, it’s difficult to say *exactly* what you should do. But I can give some general guidance here. 🙂 Here on our blog, Thomas offers some general thoughts on preparing for the SAT as an ESL student. You may also benefit form certain strategies that are more common in TOEFL prep, such as strategies for better pacing and comprehension even when you don’t understand all the words in a passage. (See this Magoosh TOEFL Blog article.)

      Speaking of the words in a passage, international students can often benefit from going through vocabulary word lists, such as Rachel’s list of the top 100 “must know” SAT words.

      Another resource I’d recommend is “ACT Reading Strategies for Slow Readers.” Because ACT and SAT Reading are very similar, this video lesson is applicable to SAT Reading too!

      In general, as an international student, you’re going to want to look closely at a wide variety of strategies, tips and advice for reading in English. Kristin’s overview of the best strategies for SAT Reading is a good place to start. So I also recommend skimming this blog’s archives for both SAT Reading and ACT Reading.

      I hope all of this helps. If you need any specific additional advice, feel free to reply to this comment. 🙂

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