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The transient behavior of degenerate four-wave mixing (DFWM) in a three-level saturable absorber is analyzed and verified experimentally. A sharp peak of phase-conjugated reflectivity is predicted and observed at high pump intensities for pulsed beams. The influence of the time-dependent behavior of the conjugate wave signal on results of pulsed-beam experiments is studied. It is shown that transient effects could account for discrepancies between previous experimental results and steady-state theory.