MIT reinstates SAT/ACT requirements for prospective applicants

"We are reinstating our requirement in order to be transparent and equitable in our expectations."

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

On Monday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that the prestigious school would be reinstating its requirement that prospective applicants must submit ACT or SAT scores on their application.

In an MIT News interview with MIT’s Dean of Admissions and student financial services Stuart Schmill, he stated that the testing results should be considered in applications to predict whether students would do well at the Cambridge, Massachusetts university.

According to MIT News, the testing requirement had been dropped during the pandemic, which prevented most students from being able to appear in person for the extensive testing process.

"We are reinstating our requirement in order to be transparent and equitable in our expectations," said Schmill. "Our concern is that, without the compelling clarity of a requirement, some well-prepared applicants won’t take the tests, and we won’t have enough information to be confident in their academic readiness when they apply."

"We believe it will be more equitable — and less anxiety-inducing — if we require all applicants who take the tests to disclose their scores, rather than ask each student to strategically guess whether or not to send them to us," he added.

Schmill explained that university research has shown that admissions staff "cannot reliably predict students will do well at MIT unless we consider standardized test results alongside grades, coursework, and other factors."

"These findings are statistically robust and stable over time, and hold when you control for socioeconomic factors and look across demographic groups. And the math component of the testing turns out to be most important," he added.

Explaining the strenuous first-year mathematics requirements for students, Schmill said, "So, in a way, it is not surprising that the SAT/ACT math exams are predictive of success at MIT; it would be more surprising if they weren’t."

While the testing has been reinstated, Schmill noted that there may be exceptions where a student cannot take the test due to extenuating circumstances, and in those cases, the student should explain on their application why they couldn’t take the test.

"…We will not hold the lack of exam against them. We will instead use other factors in their application to assess preparation as best we can, but with one less tool in our kit in their case," said Schmill.

In regards to a question asking about those that think testing creates "structural barriers for socioeconomically disadvantaged and/or underrepresented students," Schmill reiterated that "MIT Admissions has a strong commitment to diversity, and it is important to us that we minimize unfair barriers to our applicants wherever possible."

"However, what we have found is that the way we use the SAT/ACT increases access to MIT for students from these groups relative to other things we can consider," he noted.

He argued that the reason for this is because "educational inequality impacts all aspects of a prospective student’s preparation and application, not just test-taking."

"As I wrote, low-income students, underrepresented students of color, and other disadvantaged populations often do not attend schools that offer advanced coursework (and if they do, they are less likely to be able to take it)," Schmill argued. "They often cannot afford expensive enrichment opportunities, cannot expect lengthy letters of recommendation from their overburdened teachers, or cannot otherwise benefit from this kind of educational capital. Meanwhile, we know that the pandemic was most disruptive to our least-resourced students, who may have had no consistent coursework or grading for nearly two years now."

Schmill stressed that the testing results are just one tool used in the application process.

"It turns out the shortest path for many students to demonstrate sufficient preparation — particularly for students with less access to educational capital — is through the SAT/ACT, because most students can study for these exams using free tools at Khan Academy, but they (usually) can’t force their high school to offer advanced calculus courses, for example. So, the SAT/ACT can actually open the door to MIT for these students, too," he said.

Schmill added that if the admissions office can find "better, more equitable tools than the SAT/ACT, we will make changes to our policies and process, as we did a few years ago when we stopped considering the SAT subject tests."

He hopes that the reinstatement of the requirement will help the university "recruit, select, and enroll a robustly diverse undergraduate student body that is well-prepared to succeed in our challenging curriculum."


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