Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Mar 29, 2022

MIT has announced that it will be reinstating its SAT/ACT requirement starting with the next admissions cycle.

[Excerpts from the statement by MIT Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill:]

After careful consideration, we have decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles. Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT. We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy.

Within our office, we have a dedicated research and analysis team that continuously studies our processes, outcomes, and criteria to make sure we remain mission-driven and student-centered. During the pandemic, we redoubled our efforts to understand how we can best evaluate academic readiness for all students, particularly those most impacted by its attendant disruptions. To briefly summarize a great deal of careful research:

---Our ability to accurately predict student academic success at MIT⁠ is significantly improved by considering standardized testing — especially in mathematics — alongside other factors

---Some standardized exams besides the SAT/ACT can help us evaluate readiness, but access to these other exams is generally more socioeconomically restricted⁠ relative to the SAT/ACT

---As a result, not having SATs/ACT scores to consider tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education,⁠ relative to having them, given these other inequalities.

Our research can’t explain why these tests are so predictive of academic preparedness for MIT, but we believe it is likely related to the centrality of mathematics — and mathematics examinations — in our education. All MIT students, regardless of intended major, must pass two semesters of calculus, plus two semesters of calculus-based physics, as part of our General Institute Requirements.⁠ The GIRs are both a defining strength of the MIT education, and also the functional constraint on access to it. Because all MIT undergraduates, no matter their major, must pass challenging classes in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry — as well as a rigorous humanistic and communication requirement — we believe we can only responsibly admit students who are prepared to do all of that work, across all of those fields, at their time of entry to MIT. It is perhaps worth noting that the GIRs are also the most basic point of entry in each of these fields: MIT does not offer any remedial math classes ‘below’ the level of single-variable calculus, for example, or physics courses ‘below’ classical mechanics, so students have to be ready to perform at that level and pace when they arrive. The substance and pace of these courses are both very demanding, and they culminate in long, challenging final exams that students must pass⁠ to proceed with their education.⁠ In other words, there is no path through MIT that does not rest on a rigorous foundation in mathematics, and we need to be sure our students are ready for that as soon as they arrive.⁠

Like all of you, we had hoped that, by now, the pandemic would be behind us. It is not, nor is it clear if or when it will be. However, the availability of vaccines for adolescents⁠ has reduced the health risks of in-person educational activities, while the expansion of the free in-school SAT,⁠ and the forthcoming Digital SAT, have increased opportunities to take the tests. Given the crucial role these tests play in our process, we have — after careful consideration within our office, and with the unanimous support of our student-faculty advisory committee — decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for the foreseeable future.⁠

Nick Anderson of The Washington Post offers his take on the MIT announcement:


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology this week became one of the first super-selective schools to reinstate its requirement for SAT or ACT scores, an admissions mandate that had been suspended amid widespread testing disruptions at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

MIT said scores can yield important insights into students’ potential when considered alongside other information about their background and academic preparation.

Whether the decision, announced Monday, will slow the momentum of the test-optional movement in higher education remains to be seen. But it is certain to be widely noticed because of the school’s reputation as a premier destination for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The decision runs counter to the direction of many leading universities, including a certain well-known neighbor of MIT’s in Cambridge, Mass. — Harvard University in December announced that it will be test-optional for the next four years.

MIT’s decision does not affect the 1,337 students whom it offered admission for the class that enters next fall. (Admit rate: 4 percent.) But it will affect those who are high school juniors and plan to apply to enter MIT in fall 2023.

But there are plenty of universities that value math skills and take a different approach. “The test scores — we don’t need them,” said Andrew Palumbo, vice president for enrollment management at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, also in Massachusetts. Last year WPI switched to a policy that bars any consideration of the SAT or ACT. Previously, it had been test-optional.

Palumbo said data showed “no statistically significant difference” in the performance of students who submitted scores compared with those who didn’t. He said he was also dubious of the value of timed admission tests for a university that promotes creativity and problem-solving. “It’s so antithetical to how we believe students should learn and educators should teach,” he said.

MIT has now admitted two classes without a test score requirement. The freshmen who entered last fall were the first. Schmill said in a telephone interview Monday that the decision to reinstate the requirement does not reflect any lack of confidence in the performance of the Class of 2025 or in the potential of the Class of 2026.

“We had as much confidence as we could have in every student we admitted,” Schmill said. “I fully expect students to do as well as they ever have.”

The New York Times offers additional coverage of MIT's decision to reinstate the SAT/ACT requirement:


In a Q. and A. posted by the M.I.T. News Office, Mr. Schmill said the office’s research had shown that the university “cannot reliably predict students will do well at MIT unless we consider standardized test results alongside grades, coursework, and other factors.”

The move bucks the trend seen at other elite colleges and universities, which have waived standardized testing requirements amid criticism that wealthier students can afford prep coaching and have an advantage.

M.I.T. “is definitely an outlier,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. He called M.I.T.’s reinstatement of standardized test scores “an unfortunate decision.”

“So much of the super selective admissions world has decided that test scores are not fair or accurate,” he said.

During the pandemic, when many high schools were closed or teaching remotely, about 750 additional colleges and universities waived the requirement that SAT and ACT scores be submitted with applications, Mr. Schaeffer said.

As of today, more than two-thirds of the 2,330 four-year colleges and universities in the United States have extended making SAT or ACT scores optional at least through fall 2023, he said.

Last May, leaders of the University of California system voted to eliminate test score requirements permanently. And Harvard will remain test-optional at least through fall 2026, Mr. Schaeffer said.

“All the Ivy League schools are test optional for at least one more year,” he said.

Other universities like the California Institute of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute have also waived making SAT and ACT test scores a requirement on applications, Mr. Schaeffer said.

Mr. Schaeffer also noted that M.I.T. had not publicized the research it cited showing that SAT and ACT math test scores can predict success at the university.

“It’s hard to understand how, without more evidence,” he said. “M.I.T. math scores are so high on average that there won’t be much distribution in scores.”

In an interview on Monday, Mr. Schmill said that M.I.T. did not publish its data because doing so could compromise the privacy of its students.

Typically, the university enrolls about 1,000 students a year, he said. M.I.T. accepted about 1,337 students for the 2022-23 school year and expects to enroll about 1,100, he said.

Jeffrey Selingo, the author of “Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions,” said on Monday that some universities might revert to requiring SAT or ACT scores in order to shrink the increasing number of applications received and improve the selection process.

The number of first-year applications through mid-February increased 10 percent from last year, according to the Common App, one of the nation’s most used application services.

“What’s the best thing to put a limit on applications?” Mr. Selingo said. “It’s to bring back the testing and require the test.”

The California State University system has gone the other way, following the lead of the University of California in abandoning use of SAT/ACT in the admissions process:


Trustees of California State University, the largest four-year university system in the nation, agreed Wednesday to permanently drop the SAT and ACT standardized tests in its admissions process, solidifying the state’s national role in eliminating the high-stakes exams because of equity concerns.

The move comes after the University of California system led the way, making the bold decision in 2020 to drop the exams, triggering a national debate over whether the tests unfairly discriminate against disadvantaged students or provide a useful tool to evaluate college applicants.

The dual actions by California’s public university systems, which collectively educate 772,000 students, are likely to accelerate the national movement to reshape the college admissions process and craft more equitable ways to assess student readiness for higher education.

“Today’s decision ... sets a standard for public institutions around the country,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “Combined with the elimination of standardized exam mandates by the University of California system as well as test-optional policies in place at all public campuses in Oregon and Washington state, these actions make the West Coast a national model for admissions reform.”

But ACT criticized the trustees’ action, saying it was “more likely to harm than help students.”

“Abandoning the use of objective assessments like the ACT test introduces greater subjectivity and uncertainty into the admissions process, and this decision is likely to worsen entrenched inequities in California,” ACT said in a statement. “Solving the prevailing, systemic education inequities that exist in this country requires attention and focus on root causes, rather than dismissing the tools that substantially improve our understanding of them.”

The CSU decision follows a two-year suspension that aimed to decrease anxiety and limited access to the tests for applicants during the pandemic. The Cal State Student Assn. and the Cal State Academic Senate also supported the discontinuation of tests.

The 23-campus Cal State system, which educates 477,000 students, suspended testing requirements for the last two years due to the pandemic. Campuses have replaced the eligibility index composed of grades and test scores with multiple factors, including high school grade-point average in 15 required college preparatory courses, overall coursework rigor and extracurricular activities. High school context may also be considered — a school’s share of low-income students, for instance, and whether it is near a CSU campus for priority consideration.

With the vote to permanently end testing requirements, the admission advisory council will refine the eligibility index formula, recommending a minimum required GPA, factors used for scoring and timeline for rollout. Campuses with more applicants than seats in any or all programs would retain flexibility to choose which factors to consider.

The University system of Georgia has announced a temporary suspension of SAT/ACT requirements in nearly all of its colleges and universities:


Students interested in applying to take undergraduate courses at most public universities in Georgia this fall won’t need to submit an ACT or SAT score to enroll.

The University System of Georgia announced this week it will temporarily waive test score requirements for admission at 23 of its 26 colleges and universities.

The waiver does not include applicants to Georgia College & State University, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, which are the system’s most academically competitive schools. Most applicants to those schools have already submitted their forms for fall enrollment.

Students must still meet all other admission requirements, including adjusted minimum grade-point average eligibility thresholds for each University System sector, which are 3.4 for research universities, 3.2 for comprehensive universities and 3.0 for state universities.

Students seeking the Georgia Lottery-funded Zell Miller Scholarship, which pays the full tuition at University System schools, must also submit ACT or SAT scores. The lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship, which covers most of the tuition at University System schools, does not require ACT or SAT scores.

The University System, along with many colleges and universities, has waived the scores for college applications since the coronavirus pandemic because of various difficulties administering the exams.

On a lighter note, the satirical website The Onion takes a jab at the SAT in its item titled, "SAT Rebuts Claim That Test Classist Due To Wine Tasting Portion."


Responding to long-standing criticisms of the standardized test, the College Board released a statement Monday rebutting the claim that the SAT was classist due to its wine-tasting portion. “While we appreciate concerns about this portion of the exam, we’ve repeatedly seen that the ability to sip a grenache and detect notes of black cherries or star anise strongly correlates to success in university settings and beyond,” College Board president Jeremy Singer said in the statement, forcefully pushing back on the suggestion that affluent students benefited from growing up in families who could afford to hire professional sommeliers to tutor them on the specific terroir of France’s Rhône Valley or Loire region. “There’s nothing about tannins or acidity that can’t be learned in a book, as opposed to a family trip to Napa. Put simply, anyone looking to enter higher education should be prepared to show basic reading and mathematical skills, as well as identify the difference between a 1990 and 1993 Vernaccia di San Gimignano.”