- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005


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

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

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

This weekend, about 330,000 mostly grumpy high schoolers became the first to officially take the revamped college entrance exam. Although 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 about 1 p.m. from Miami Springs Senior High School. The senior was trying to improve the scores she had earned on the old version.

“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.

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 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, Sheryl 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 nonprofit group that owns the test, said last week that there would be multiple questions.

Students who took the test Saturday can get their scores starting April 11. 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.

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

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 a point, the essay goes to a third grader.

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 been folded into the main SAT exam.

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