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Computer glitches affected hundreds of students taking an essay exam on Saturday as part of the application for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

Students who had reached the semifinals of the competitive admission process for the magnet school gathered at 15 testing sites across Northern Virginia on Saturday. But more than a third of the applicants had trouble submitting their work through the online system.

Of 1,496 applicants, about 500 students encountered computer problems while taking the writing test. The technical issues affected students at all 15 testing locations - 12 in Fairfax County and three in neighboring districts.

“Where was the back-up plan?” said Beverly Jurenko, president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, in a statement. “This failure cripples the admissions process and places undue stress on the students.”

This year marked the premiere of the new online system. Previously, essays were written and submitted in paper form. Hiccups in the electronic submission process left students rewriting essays or worrying over vanishing responses.

Immediately following the Saturday morning exams, the Thomas Jefferson admissions office sent an e-mail to applicants’ families about the computer glitches.

“We are now assessing the extent of the technical difficulties and are deeply sorry for the problem,” wrote Jeremy Shughart, the school’s director of admissions.

The admissions office plans to notify parents and students by Jan. 31 of the plans moving forward. The school system is exploring possible options, including allowing applicants to review their essays online or retake the test.

“The goal is to ensure that no student is placed at a disadvantage as a result of these issues,” said John Torre, the spokesman for county schools.