Finland’s test is far more challenging than the SAT (and the ACT) in almost every other way — even in sheer duration. Finland is famous for having very few standardized tests (high school students take a lot of tests, but the tests are designed by their teachers—not a distant testing corporation). But during their senior year, Finnish kids do take one giant standardized test known as the Matura — the mother of all tests. This test lasts about 50 hours, stretched out over three long weeks. By contrast, the new SAT will last 3 hours and 50 minutes with the optional essay (or 3 hours without).
And in Finland, the essay is not optional. To the contrary, students spend a day writing short essays in response to several texts over the course of six hours. The next day, they choose one topic out of 14 options and write one long essay — over the course of another six hours. One recent topic was, “Why is it difficult to achieve peace in the Middle East?” That’s 12 hours of writing — compared to 50 minutes (or zero, for those who choose not to do the essay) on the new SAT.
None of this would matter very much if it weren’t also true that Finland’s entire system is more rigorous. These tests tend to reflect the rest of the story, in every country. In Korea, the test (known as the College Scholastic Ability Test, or CSAT) lasts eight hours and the stock exchange opens an hour late so that students won’t have to deal with traffic jams on their way to the exam.