Sarah Jones, a senior at Sidwell Friends School in the District, logged on to her home computer Thursday night, eager to get her SAT score. Like many of the more than half a million teenagers who took the college entrance exam Oct. 9, this was her second try, and she hoped to improve on her results from last spring.
When she tried to access the College Board's Web site, however, she got a result she didn't expect: No scores were available because of "temporary difficulties" due to "exceptionally high usage."
She tried again, same message. And again, still no luck. Her mother, Karen Jones, estimated that they had tried more than 30 times by yesterday afternoon as they joined tens of thousands of frustrated victims of a major crash of the College Board Web site that gives out the scores.
"Sarah is doing a lot better than I am," said Karen Jones, a Bethesda resident, late yesterday. She said the color scheme of the Web site's error message grew more colorful as the day dragged on. "I think it's now in red, white and blue, maybe to make us feel that this is being done for God and country," she said.
The ability to get SAT scores quickly by signing on to the Web site with a personal password has been celebrated by many teenagers and their parents, who until 2001 had to wait for mailed results. But when the site crashes, as it has done previously when traffic was particularly heavy, modern life suddenly seems maddeningly inconvenient.
"Everybody was talking about it today," said Dan Cate, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, who also failed to gain access to the site Thursday night. He said he was able to obtain his score at 6:05 a.m. yesterday before the site took a turn for the worse.
Kristin Carnahan, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said technicians were working on the problem and hoped to get it fixed by today. By last night, some results were available, but the site was responding very slowly.
If problems persist, she said, students and colleges will receive the results by "snail mail" toward the end of the month.
The October test is a favorite for seniors who think they can do better than they did in their first try in spring of junior year. Now is a particularly tense time for many, because the Nov. 1 deadline for college early decision applicants is looming, and the October scores help students decide where they should apply.
Cate, for instance, was delighted to discover that his score had improved by 130 points -- to 1500 out of a possible 1600. He had planned to apply early decision to one college and needed a strong score to overcome a less impressive 3.4 unweighted grade-point average, he said. The 1500 led him to think he might not apply early at all, but wait to sift through what he hoped would be several offers with good financial aid packages. He and his parents had a pancake breakfast to celebrate.
The Oct. 9 test was one of the last of the old-style SATs before a radical overhaul planned for the spring. In March, the new SAT will include a writing test and be graded differently, with 2400 becoming the top score.
Carnahan said the College Board had been getting calls all day from anxious students eager to know their test scores, as well as from parents. "We don't know exactly what happened, but our technicians are saying that they hope to have at least some of the features of the Web site restored" by last night, she said.
Although the Web site usually is the quickest way for students to find out their scores, the College Board uses the U.S. Postal Service to formally notify test-takers of their results. Students who called College Board headquarters in New York yesterday were also told that they could receive the scores immediately by calling 1-800-728-7267 and paying a fee by credit card.
That alternative did not make Karen Jones feel much better. "This organization is making a fortune," she said of the College Board, "and every time you talk to these people, [you] have to send them $16" to register to take the SAT.
"You wait for the day," she added, speaking of yesterday's frustrations in trying to access her daughter's score. "And then you say, 'Well, it's time to go to bed.' The day you waited for has come and gone."
Cate, happy with his score, was more philosophical. "It's only been two weeks," he said. "I think they can wait a few more hours to find out their scores."
Staff writer Michael Dobbs contributed to this report.