Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Mar 09, 2024

Brown University has announced that it will be reinstating its SAT/ACT requirement. The Washington Post has coverage:


Brown University will again require that applicants submit standardized-test scores, university officials announced Tuesday, making it the third Ivy League school to reinstate that pre-pandemic admission norm in recent weeks.

The school will continue to give an advantage to applicants whose parents attended or work at Brown, and will still allow students to apply early, if they choose.

Like officials at Yale University and Dartmouth College, both of which recently announced they would resume requiring standardized tests from applicants, officials at Brown said research indicated that SAT and ACT scores are highly predictive of students’ academic performance in college. Brown Provost Francis J. Doyle III, who co-chaired a committee studying admissions policies, said in an interview Tuesday that removing the testing requirement made it more difficult for admissions officers to assess whether Brown hopefuls were likely to thrive at the school. He said reinstating the requirement will make the admissions office more “effective.”

But Doyle emphasized repeatedly that Brown did not find that students admitted during the temporary period of test-optional admissions were struggling more than their peers.

“This is a question a lot of people jump to, ‘Were there questions about the students admitted under test-optional?’” Doyle said. “No, we have no doubts about what happened there.”

Brown’s test requirement will take effect for prospective students who are applying throughout next fall and winter, and would matriculate at the university in fall 2025.

Many colleges chose to continue their test-optional policies even after the public health crisis lessened, gathering data on how the policy was working out. Now, institutions across the United States are trying to figure out what comes next.

Some are decisively sticking with test-optionality, including Columbia and the University of Michigan. The University of California system has been wholly test-free since 2020 and appears committed to that policy.

But in other places, college leaders say that tests are too important of a predictor to forgo.

At Brown, President Christina H. Paxton formulated a committee to study admissions this September, spurred by a national debate over the use of various preferences in admissions that had been growing for decades but caught fire in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal decision striking down the use of race-based affirmative action.

She charged the committee with answering several questions: Whether Brown should alter its early-decision policy, which allows students ready to commit to the school to apply by Nov. 1; whether it should reinstate a standardized test score requirement; and whether to change the existing preferences given to applicants with family connections to Brown.

After months of work, the committee reached consensus on reinstating testing and keeping the early-decision policy, Doyle said. The top argument for nixing early decision was that some families might feel like committing endangered their financial aid, Doyle said — “so we have to double down on our efforts to communicate that we are indeed need-blind.”

Yale University had announced its own intention to once again require SAT/ACT a few weeks ago.


Yale University will again require students to submit standardized test scores when they apply for admission, school officials said Thursday. The change comes after officials found that the scores were the single best predictor of students’ academic performance and that not considering them could be a disadvantage for those who have already faced daunting challenges.

The decision — which includes greater flexibility for applicants by allowing more types of tests — is likely to be closely watched not only by students aspiring to highly selective colleges and agonizing over test scores and other metrics, but also by other universities evaluating their own policies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The change will go into effect for first-year and transfer applicants for fall 2025 admission.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, reported in September that more than 1.9 million high school students who graduated last spring had taken the exam, an increase from 1.7 million in 2022.

“The vast majority of the college-admissions world is going to remain test-optional,” said Harry Feder, the executive director of FairTest, which opposes the SAT and ACT — by their count, more than 80 percent of four-year colleges would not require those scores for admission in the fall of 2025. He said most schools are finding they’re getting more applicants and more diversity when they don’t require the scores.

Feder said he preferred Yale’s more flexible policy to Dartmouth’s, because requiring the SAT or ACT will shut out more socioeconomically disadvantaged students who simply won’t apply.

Every institution needs to make its own decision, Hawkins said. “I don’t think there’s a clear trend line yet,” he said. “I think we are still very much in a churn phase.”

“The pandemic was an unanticipated, precipitous change to our work,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Yale. He said Yale had already begun studying the value of standardized testing in their process even before the pandemic. “And then obviously, some of our questions changed as we went through cycles of test-optional admissions. We’ve now been through four.”

In analyses of the applicant pool, the admitted class, the freshman class, and comparisons of students who were admitted with and without test scores, Yale found that the scores accurately predicted academic performance. Students with higher scores were more likely to have higher grades at Yale.

Test scores also predicted students’ grades at Yale better than anything else on their applications, school officials said.

That finding was consistent with a recent study of a dozen highly selective colleges from Opportunity Insights, in which researchers found that even among otherwise similar students with the same grades in high school, SAT and ACT scores “have substantial predictive power for academic success in college.”

“The first question you have when you open up an application file, is ‘Can this student do the work at Yale?’” Quinlan said. Tests, along with transcripts, are a huge part of answering that question, he said.

In recent years, Yale has enrolled more than 1,000 students who did not submit scores. But analyses found that applicants who withheld scores were less likely to be admitted. That was especially true for those from lower-income families and high schools with fewer college-preparatory courses.

“The entire admissions office staff is keenly aware of the research on the correlations between standardized test scores and household income as well as the persistent gaps by race,” Quinlan said in a statement to the Yale community. “Our experience, however, is that including test scores as one component of a thoughtful whole-person review process can help increase the diversity of the student body rather than decrease it.”

The findings mirror those of Dartmouth. Sian Leah Beilock, Dartmouth’s president, said earlier this month that the school concluded the numbers could be particularly helpful in identifying students with fewer advantages who otherwise might be overlooked.

Yale will also allow more types of tests than in the past, adding Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores as options along with the SAT and ACT.

The “test-flexible” policy was influenced by another reality: With some schools not considering scores, Quinlan said, “There are plenty of students in states, particularly in California, where taking the SAT or ACT is not going to be part of their college plans.”

The university created podcasts to help explain and clarify the decisions. Mark Dunn, senior associate director of admissions for outreach and recruitment at Yale, said officials understand the holistic admissions process is opaque and they want applicants to get information directly from the school rather than paying a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ or searching corners of the internet.

“The amount of energy people spend fretting about test scores, asking us really specific questions about elements of testing policies and even just trying to improve their scores is, we think, disproportionate to their actual role in our process,” Dunn said.

The editorial board of The Washington Post concurs with recent announcements reinstating SAT/ACT requirements, offering an opinion piece titled "Colleges are Bringing Back the SAT. It's the Right Move."


The pandemic spawned a number of social experiments by necessity. One of them was a profound change in higher education: Schools stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized test scores.

Now the experiment might be ending. Yale University announced last week it would again require standardized scores, after nearly four years in which it allowed applicants to omit SAT and ACT results. Yale followed Dartmouth College, which made the same choice earlier this month, as well as MIT and Georgetown University. The scores, officials say, are the best predictor of students’ academic performance.

By contrast, the University of California has decided not to consider SAT and ACT scores at all as of fall 2023 — going “test blind,” not merely “test optional.” Its leaders celebrated increases in racial and socioeconomic diversity between 2020 and 2021 that many test critics credit to the demise of the SAT/ACT regime. This is an argument the nation has been having since long before the pandemic. The good news is that the disruption, and the changes it prompted, produced a trove of new data to make that debate more evidence-based than ever. And it shows that eschewing much-criticized standardized tests doesn’t help colleges or disadvantaged students.

The core charge against standardized tests is that they systematically disadvantage poorer students and certain students of color. Seventeen percent of kids from families in the top 20 percent of earners, The New York Times found, score at least 1300 on the 1600-point SAT; only 2.4 percent from the lowest income quintile do so. Of the top 0.1 percent whose parents can easily pay for world-class tutoring, the share is 38 percent.

Racial score gaps are less dramatic. But they’re significant, especially in math. College Board data shows that almost 60 percent of White test-takers and 80 percent of Asian test-takers meet a designated “college readiness” benchmark. Less than a third of Latino students and less than a quarter of Black students do.

This is a challenge for colleges relying on test results to determine whom they admit while also pursuing diversity. Fortunately, most colleges regard tests as one factor among many. Paired with something like an “adversity score,” their consideration can be useful, particularly when a university wants to distinguish among applicants with similar backgrounds. The idea is to recruit a diverse class full of students equipped to succeed. (MIT, for example, found that applicants it admitted despite lower scores were more likely to drop out.)

Another reason to take test scores into account: Other factors considered in any holistic admissions process, such as essay quality, extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations, tilt even more in favor of White and well-off students, many of whom have college admissions officers at their high schools to teach them how to polish their applications.

The effect of a thoughtful test scores policy ought to be exactly what Yale described when it announced its recent decision: The students across racial and socioeconomic groups most likely to excel become those most likely to be admitted. Diversity, meanwhile, doesn’t suffer. Such an outcome is possible: Most research on the past years’ test-optional and test-blind policies has not shown a dramatic rise in diversity attributable to them.

None of this means that all is well in the standardized testing system. Many students hesitate to apply to their dream schools because they think their test scores are too low or because they haven’t taken tests at all. One answer is ensuring kids do take tests by removing financial and bureaucratic obstacles in their way — and that they’re encouraged to submit scores even when they’re below a school’s median. More testing dates would help. Harvard economist Susan Dynarski also discovered that when states have automatically administered the SAT and ACT to all students, they’ve surfaced high-scoring kids who might otherwise have gone undetected and unenrolled.

Obsessing over tests misses an essential point. SAT and ACT scores encode serious shortcomings in the schooling of low-income and minority students. The way to improve scores is, in large part, to better serve those students from the start — not to put more 1600s on the board but to make sure all children acquire the knowledge and skills to thrive.

The University of Pennsylvania has announced that it will not (at least, yet) follow Dartmouth, Yale, or Brown in reverting to an SAT/ACT requirement for all applicants.


The University of Pennsylvania will remain test optional for the 2024-25 admissions cycle, it announced on its admissions blog Tuesday afternoon.

That means students for the fourth consecutive year will not be required to supply standardized test scores for admission to the fall 2025 class.

“Students who are unable or choose not to submit test scores will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process,” Penn said on its blog. Students who want to submit scores will continue to be able to do so, Penn said.

Penn did not give a rationale for a decision on its website, and its admissions office said it did not have further comment.

The new digital SAT has debuted in the US as part of SAT School Day (the testing window is between March 4 and April 26). The first "national" or Saturday testing date will be March 9th. The College Board expects more than 1 million students to take the new SAT by the end of April.

Inside Higher Ed examines potential controversies regarding the shorter, computer-based version of the test, and its adaptive technology:


Students can say goodbye to those No. 2 pencils, portable sharpeners and big pink erasers; they no longer need to worry about having legible handwriting or fully shading the answer bubbles. The SAT is now completely digital.

On Monday high schoolers began taking the test exclusively on laptops and tablets via a new app called BlueBook, named after the once-universal booklets in which test takers answered essay questions. The digital exam is about an hour shorter than the traditional SAT and features a host of other changes, big and small. Students do not have the option to take it on paper unless they’re granted an accessibility exemption.

The College Board, the nonprofit that owns and designs the SAT, announced the change at the start of 2022, after the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled in-person testing and prompted the vast majority of colleges to waive standardized test requirements. Its implementation this week comes at a pivotal moment for admissions, as colleges across the country consider whether to keep their temporary test-optional policies or return to requiring scores.

The digital SAT has been available as a pilot for international applicants to U.S. institutions since the start of 2023, and a digital PSAT using the same infrastructure became available to high schoolers last fall. Priscilla Rodriguez [the College Board’s vice president for college readiness assessments] said the feedback from the first round of test takers was “overwhelmingly positive.

But some critics of standardized testing see the shift to digital in a different light: as a way to maintain the SAT’s hold over the admissions landscape after the pandemic ushered in a wave of test-optional policies, most of which are still in place.

“To me it’s a question of, how does the College Board continue to make itself relevant in today’s world?” said Mary Churchill, director of Boston University’s higher education administration program and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed. “I don’t see a big return to requiring tests or to students taking the SAT in the numbers they used to. I actually think more colleges will go completely test blind … so they’re trying to make the test more accessible and less painful for students to take so that they’re less likely to abandon it entirely.”

The SAT will also now use adaptive technology to tailor the second half of each section according to a student’s performance on the first half. If a student does well on the first part of the math or reading and writing section, the digital system will ensure they receive a slightly more difficult mix of questions on the next part; if they do poorly, they will encounter a slightly easier second half.

Colleges will not have access to data on which students were routed in each direction—in fact, Rodriguez said, students won’t know, either—but it will be reflected in their scores. A student who gets an easier second half will still be able to score highly, but there will be a ceiling: a perfect 800 on the section will be unattainable. Students who meet the threshold for a more difficult part two will be able to score higher, with a floor of 200 for the section. (As with the old version, the highest possible SAT score is 800 each on the math and reading/writing sections, for a total of 1600.)

Rodriguez said the adaptability function serves two purposes: to enable a shorter, more efficient digital test by eliminating certain questions for students depending on their ability and to improve the test-taking experience for each student.

“We know enough about the student after they’re done with the first half to save them some time,” she said. “This way they’re not bored out of their mind doing an extra 10 easy questions, nor are they feeling incredibly discouraged with another 10 super-hard ones.”

Rodriguez added that despite the shorter length, the adaptive nature of the digital SAT means students should have about 60 percent more time per question. She hopes this will help them feel less rushed and perhaps give them more time to go back over their responses.

Some testing experts and industry insiders see that added flexibility as a good thing and believe the test’s digitization has been a long time coming.

“It’s one of the most exciting developments in the testing industry in a long while,” said Michael Nettles, a veteran psychometrist who until last year served as chair of policy evaluation and research at Educational Testing Services, the company that administers the SAT. “At the same time, it feels inevitable … Conversations about moving away from pen and paper have been happening for over a decade.”

Critics of the move to digital say personalizing even a small portion of the test is anathema to the College Board’s claim that SAT scores offer a standard, meritocratic metric. Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest and an outspoken critic of standardized testing, sees it as an olive branch to those who maintain that the SAT is inaccessible and racially and economically biased toward white, wealthy students.

“This iteration, like every iteration of the SAT, just proves how farcical its claims are,” he said.