MIT bucks trend, revives standardized test score requirement for admissions

Dive Brief: 

  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Monday it is reinstating its requirement for applicants to submit standardized test scores after waiving the condition for admission due to pandemic-related disruptions. 
  • MIT’s announcement said the institution’s own research shows that considering standardized test scores significantly improved its ability to accurately predict students’ academic success at the university, particularly in mathematics. The change will begin for the 2023-24 admissions cycle, three years after the requirement was suspended with the 2020-21 admissions cycle. 
  • The university argued that not having SAT or ACT scores raises socioeconomic barriers for those hoping to demonstrate academic preparedness for the university. MIT said its own research aligns with findings from the University of California’s standardized testing task force, which found that including these scores predicted undergraduates’ performance in their first year better than high school grades. 

Dive Insight: 

With the announcement, MIT joins a handful institutions that are returning to standardized testing requirements even as the test-optional movement gains major ground in higher education. Hundreds of colleges waived requirements for applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores during the pandemic because of disruptions to common testing sites, and proponents of the test-optional movement predict that many of them will make these policies permanent. 

However, a few institutions have either resisted going test-optional during the pandemic or returned to their policies before the health crisis struck. Florida’s public colleges were one prominent holdout, with their governing body refusing to go test-optional during the pandemic. And the University System of Georgia is resuming the requirement for its three most academically competitive institutions: the University of Georgia, Georgia College & State University, and Georgia Tech. 

In MIT’s announcement, Stu Schmill, dean of admissions and student financial services, said officials believe SAT and ACT scores predict their students’ preparedness because of the university’s emphasis on mathematics. Regardless of their majors, MIT students must take two semesters of calculus and two semesters of calculus-based physics that culminate in challenging final exams. 

“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,” Schmill wrote. 

The announcement stressed that standardized test scores are part of a multifactor analysis used to make admissions decisions. The university also argued that the tests help identify academically prepared students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and said other common methods, such as essays, favor students from well-off backgrounds. 

Test-makers — including the ACT and the College Board, which administers the SAT — have championed the same arguments. However, opponents of the tests say they are racist instruments that favor more affluent students who can afford extensive test prep. 

That position was the basis of a lawsuit filed against the University of California in 2019, which called the exams a biased measure of student performance. Although a UC task force in 2020 recommended against the system going test-optional, the system settled the lawsuit last year by agreeing to not consider the scores in admissions decisions through 2025. It made the move permanent only a few months later. 

California State University followed suit last week, when system trustees voted to abolish testing requirements for admissions. The system can still use scores for placement in math and English courses, according to a spokesperson. 

MIT said it will still consider applications from students who can’t take the SAT or ACT because of disaster or disruption, according to the announcement.

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