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updated 3/13/2005 2:55:15 PM ET 2005-03-13T19:55:15

After being drilled in a test-prep class, Sheryl Nagy wasn’t fazed by the new essay section of the revamped SAT exam.

She just wasn’t sure the test — 45 minutes longer this year and nearly 4 hours in all — would ever end.

“After a while you just stop caring and want it to be over,” Nagy, a junior at Burbank High School in California, said after Saturday’s test. “They added a lot of reading comprehension, and it was just hard to keep reading and reading and reading.”

Some 330,000 mostly grumpy high-schoolers became the first to officially take the revamped SAT college entrance exam this weekend. While the new, 25-minute essay at the start of the test generated much of the buzz and anxiety, students quickly discovered they were hardly home free after finishing it.

“My neck is killing me,” said Brenda Torrentes of Hialeah, Fla., emerging around 1 p.m. from Miami Springs Senior High School. A senior, she was trying to improve the scores she earned on the old version, and said the essay went well.

“When I first started, I had to think about what I was going to write about, but I stayed calm and I ended up finishing on time,” she said.

Prep courses helped
Others weren’t as satisfied.

“I ran out of time, actually, so my ending was rushed and I didn’t finish it as strongly as I hoped,” said Carter Butland, a junior at Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, Ohio. But he said a test-prep course helped at least somewhat: he could skip reading the directions.

In several eastern states, test-takers reported they were asked in the essay to take a stand on whether majority rule is a good way for groups to make decisions. In California, Nagy said she and others were asked to write about whether creativity has a role in the contemporary world. A spokeswoman for the College Board, the not-for-profit group that owns the test, said last week there would be multiple questions, but would not say how many for security reasons.

Students who took the test Saturday can get their scores starting April 11, and they are sure to be different. While the old test had two sections, each scored on a 200-800 point scale, the new one has three — writing, critical reading and math. So in the coming weeks a scattered handful of geniuses could become the first students ever to score a perfect 2400.

The changes were designed to make the test better reflect what students should be learning in school. In addition to the essay, the College Board added grammar and reading questions. Vocabulary analogies and quantitative comparisons were eliminated.

Now, the grading
Finishing the test in a whopping 3 hours 45 minutes meant it was time for the students to relax, but for the College Board, the work is just beginning.

The essays will be scanned, then the images downloaded by thousands of essay graders, mainly high school and college teachers. Each essay will be scored from 1 to 6 by two graders; if the readers disagree by more than one point, the essay goes to a third.

The College Board says the challenge won’t be fundamentally different from grading the SAT II writing exam. In past years, many colleges required that test and many SAT test-takers would have taken it separately. Now, it has simply been folded into the new, main SAT exam.

Some students are skeptical about mass-grading of essays.

“I just hope that they will be able to grade all these essays accurately and fairly,” Eli Silverstein said after taking the test in New Brunswick, N.J. “Because having, let’s say, a million people (take) a million essays and a million different graders, it’s not going to be a total accurate grading scale in my opinion.”

The only bigger bummer than getting up and spending a Saturday morning to take the SAT? Getting up and not taking it. Dylan Ottman showed up at Westboro High School, in Westboro, Mass., only to discover it was one of about 50 testing centers, mostly in New England, where the test was postponed because of inclement weather. Adding insult, the makeup date is April 2 — her birthday.

“It’s really stressful, because my whole life is the SAT,” said Ottman, who had taken a prep course and said that now she’ll probably spend more time preparing.

Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay in Miami, Joe Danborn in Columbus and Jackie Bsharah at the Broadcast News Center contributed to this report.

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